Streamlining tourism services in Saudi Arabia
Development of the tourism sector is an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s core strategy to wean the Kingdom’s economy off oil.
Saudi Arabia is not only home to hundreds of heritage sites, many of which are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, but also has natural beauty in abundance. Efforts are already underway to exploit the Kingdom’s potential by transforming the country into a tourist hub and diversifying its economy.
In addition to entertainment and cultural tourism, Saudi Arabia — home to the two holiest sites in Islam — is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to improve services for religious tourists.
Under the new economic plan, the Kingdom envisages its tourism sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product will reach about 15 percent. It is also seeking foreign investment to further develop the sector, which will result in the creation of employment opportunities for Saudi youth.
Authorities are working relentlessly to improve the tourism sector to achieve the goals of the Vision 2030 reform plan. In this regard, a proposed new tourism law will include penalties for violations of licenses and compliance rules. It is likely to serve as a guiding document containing all the relevant instructions and policies governing the sector.
Of course, any legal action in the case of a violation will begin with the issuance of a warning to allow a violator to correct his or her behavior. The second step will be imposition of a fine and suspension of operating license for a period not exceeding six months. In case of further noncompliance, a license can be canceled, resulting in the closure of the tourist facility.
The new law will seek hefty penalties for committing any act that harms the reputation of tourism in the Kingdom, or practicing any tourism activity or managing it in a manner that involves unlawful competition. Fines in such cases will not be less than SR50,000 ($13,327) and not more than SR200,000.
In the same context, it is also permissible, as is currently the case, to include in the final judgment a provision to publish the verdict’s summary at the expense of the violator in a local newspaper issued in his or her place of residence. If there is no newspaper in that region, it will be published in a newspaper in the nearest region, or publicized through any other appropriate means.
Of course, we look forward to expanding the new law to include and cover all the details of the duties of companies as well as the rights of tourists.
There are many rights that tourists should be aware of such as receiving fair treatment without discrimination from tourism service providers, obtaining correct, comprehensive and clear information about the services provided, and their conditions, refunding the price of the service in the event that it does not conform to what was agreed upon or refusal to provide a service to a tourist, if it was available and to provide the necessary facilities for tourists with special needs.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi lawyer and legal consultant. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif