A strategic partnership aims to make Saudi Arabia a top global destination

Special A new partnership aims to amplify Saudi tourism experience for leisure travelers using Emirates’ global network. (AFP/File Photos)
A new partnership aims to amplify Saudi tourism experience for leisure travelers using Emirates’ global network. (AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 26 April 2022

A strategic partnership aims to make Saudi Arabia a top global destination

A new partnership aims to amplify Saudi tourism experience for leisure travelers using Emirates’ global network. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Saudi Tourism Authority seeks to amplify tourism experience for travelers using Emirates’ global network
  • Emirates runs 53 flights per week to its four Saudi gateways: Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah

DUBAI: After taking the landmark step in 2019 to open its doors to international tourism as part of a strategy to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia is now fast-tracking measures to streamline its air connectivity network, making it faster and cheaper to visit the Kingdom.

A recently signed agreement between the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) and Emirates, one of the biggest commercial carriers in the world, promises to boost the number of international travelers opting to vacation in the Kingdom, while benefiting both economies.

A memorandum of understanding, signed by the two organizations in February, is expected to add further impetus to Saudi tourism infrastructure projects, from NEOM’s futuristic Trojena ski resort to the heritage trails of AlUla and the entertainment city of Qiddiya in Riyadh.

Describing Saudi Arabia as “one of our most important markets in the region,” Adil Al-Ghaith, Emirates’ senior vice president for commercial operations in the Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia, said the deal will help the Kingdom realize its goal of becoming a top global destination.




A rendering of the city of NEOM, one of the mega projects currently under construction in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major transformation, which includes a pipeline of unique projects that will help position it as one of the world’s most attractive tourism destinations, and help tell its story to the world,” Al-Ghaith told Arab News.

“We’re already seeing interest among travelers who are eager to experience the Kingdom’s spectacular landscapes, hugely diverse sea and terrains, and rich culture and history.”

As part of the MoU, the STA and Emirates will work jointly to promote the Kingdom’s major attractions, with a view to making Saudi Arabia a key market in its global network of almost 130 routes.

The partners will also share data insights on traveler trends and booking behaviors, which will enable the STA to “finetune their strategies to effectively market the destination in key pockets around the globe,” said Al-Ghaith.

The Dubai-based airline already runs 53 flights per week to its four Saudi gateways, namely Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah.

Using its vast air connectivity network, Emirates will enhance inbound tourism in Saudi Arabia by tapping into new, previously underserved segments of the traveler market.




The primary aim is to boost tourism into Saudi Arabia and attract travelers from across Emirates’ network. (AFP/File Photo)

“The memorandum will enable us to reach over 120 destinations around the world and attract tourists from these destinations to various Saudi destinations,” said Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and board member of the Saudi Tourism Authority, after the signing of the MoU.

Omar Akbar, a tourism expert and CEO of Zamzam.com, a B2B booking search engine that caters for Umrah pilgrims, believes the STA-Emirates deal will help pave the way for “important partnerships to achieve the goals and aspirations of the Saudi tourism ecosystem, which is in harmony with Vision 2030.”

The Vision 2030 reform agenda was launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil by bolstering a host of other industries, including tourism.

Historically, most of Saudi Arabia’s revenues in this regard have come from religious tourism. Almost 20 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP from non-oil sources in 2019 — amounting to some $12 billion — came from Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah.

The travel industry, including those agencies specifically serving religious tourists, were badly hit by the movement restrictions imposed by governments in 2020-21 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the easing of restrictions, the market appears to be improving.




The ancient Nabataean site of Hegra, near AlUla, is a key tourist destination in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

“I am very much sure this sector will pick the traffic back to normal in no time,” Akbar told Arab News. Indeed, the number of Umrah pilgrims this year has been close to those of pre-pandemic times.

By 2030, the Kingdom wants tourism to contribute around 10 percent to its GDP, to attract 100 million annual visits to its major attractions (45 million domestic travelers and 55 million inbound tourists), and to create 1 million additional jobs.

The first big step toward achieving this goal came in 2019 when the Kingdom launched the Saudi eVisa, which made it much easier for foreign visitors to arrange travel documentation online.

“The eVisa facility has largely contributed to attracting many visitors and this has added value in achieving the growing number of visitors as an objective of Vision 2030,” said Akbar.

FASTFACTS

* The STA-Emirates MoU was signed on Feb. 17, 2022. 

* The primary aim is to boost tourism into Saudi Arabia and attract travelers from across Emirates’ network. 

* A secondary aim is to cultivate a supportive infrastructure for those journeying to Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Medina.

To raise the number of visitors, the STA has orchestrated a global marketing campaign to promote the Kingdom’s latest luxury travel developments and its little-known heritage gems.

From advertising campaigns and trade shows to organizing trips for the global press, travel agents and social media influencers, the Kingdom is pulling out all the stops to improve visitor numbers.

“There is no other country in the world that is investing so much money now to showcase its attractions,” Daniel Ponzo, managing director of the Jeddah-based Zahid Travel Group, told Arab News.

Moreover, the STA has partnered with the tourism ministries of countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Europe, among other regions, to establish a shared agenda in the promotion and preservation of heritage and culture.

Meanwhile, a raft of projects are underway across Saudi Arabia to provide the required accommodation, transport links and attractions “to make the destination one of the most beautiful in the world,” said Ponzo.




A raft of projects are underway across Saudi Arabia to provide the required accommodation, transport links and attractions “to make the destination one of the most beautiful in the world.” (AFP)

Perhaps chief among the Kingdom’s attractions is AlUla, a region in the northwest famous for its beautiful desert landscape as well as its historical, geological and geographical significance.

Upon completion in 2035, the project aims to create 38,000 new jobs, attract 2 million visitors a year, expand the area’s population to 130,000, contributing $32 billion to the Kingdom’s economy. Over $2 billion has already been invested in the project, and $3.2 billion is being spent on priority infrastructure.

There is also the new destination of NEOM, the Kingdom’s first smart city now taking shape on the Red Sea coast, where authorities intend to offer 45,000 rooms by 2030.

“And then there is one of the very extraordinary projects like the Red Sea Development,” said Ponzo. “By 2030, approximately 22 islands will be developed with 48 resorts. And, by 2023, five islands will be developed with 16 resorts with approximately 3,000 rooms.




A new MoU signed between Emirates and the Saudi Tourism Authority, above, should see visitor numbers to the Kingdom increase. (AFP)

“You can see huge developments. It is just amazing what is happening in Saudi Arabia, since 2018 and 2019, when the country decided to open its doors to tourism.”

By adding Saudi Arabia to the regional itineraries of travel agencies and expanding transport options, experts say the entire Gulf Cooperation Council area stands to benefit.

“I think it is a great idea, and the region as a whole is heading in the same direction,” said Akbar.

“With the anticipated connectivity between the GCC countries through different means of transportation, this shall foster and enable tourists to explore Middle Eastern culture in a short span of time.”

Incidentally, as part of its economic reforms, the Saudi government last year announced plans to become a global transportation and logistics hub by 2030, targeting passenger traffic of 330 million a year.

To this end, a new airline will be set up, to be based in Riyadh, while flag carrier Saudia will be based out of Jeddah under a transportation strategy that calls for the establishment of two hubs.

Saudi Arabia’s main aim is to increase the number of arrivals to the Kingdom, Mohammed Alkhuraisi, head of strategy at the General Authority of Civil Aviation, told Reuters recently. “We are not after the transit market.”

The general consensus is that Saudi Arabia’s opening up to the world has given the entire region a chance to reshape its international image and reap rich economic rewards.

“We can already see there are travelers interested in combining and visiting two or three countries in the region. The Dubai+ combination is very much requested,” said Ponzo.

“With the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, some of the travelers who will go to Qatar will combine Qatar and Saudi Arabia as a travel combination.”

Looking at the long-term picture, he said: “With Saudi Arabia now on the map of new destinations in the region to visit, probably on the bucket list of maybe millions of travelers, it will be a fantastic boost to the region.”

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Hajj pilgrims praise receiving ‘finest services’ at Saudi Arabia’s Halat Ammar crossing

Hajj pilgrims praise receiving ‘finest services’ at Saudi Arabia’s Halat Ammar crossing
Updated 35 min 52 sec ago

Hajj pilgrims praise receiving ‘finest services’ at Saudi Arabia’s Halat Ammar crossing

Hajj pilgrims praise receiving ‘finest services’ at Saudi Arabia’s Halat Ammar crossing
  • Pilgrims expressed their appreciation for the great efforts made by hosts Saudi Arabia to make their pilgrimage safe, comfortable and meaningful

JEDDAH: Officials at the Halat Ammar border crossing are continuing their efforts to welcome pilgrims from abroad through an integrated system of services provided by civil, military, and government agencies.

The services aim to better help pilgrims and improve the quality of services provided by the Saudi government, from the moment pilgrims arrive in the Kingdom, on their way to the holy sites, and until they return to their home countries.

Under the direct supervision and follow-up of Tabuk Gov. Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the region’s Hajj work committee at Halat Ammar’s Pilgrims’ City also provides medical services and religious awareness programs.

Pilgrims expressed their satisfaction with the services provided, saying that King Salman had spared no effort to help his Muslim brothers and sisters wherever they were.

Palestinian pilgrim Widad Ibrahim expressed her great pleasure in being among this year’s pilgrims. She also thanked the Saudi authorities for the services they were providing.

“The pilgrims are receiving the finest services, and for that, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the services and hospitality we found. In fact, they reflect the Saudi government and people's interest in serving the guests of Allah who come from all corners of the world to perform their Hajj rituals,” Ibrahim said.

Pilgrims also expressed their appreciation for the great efforts made by Saudi Arabia in utilizing its capabilities and services to aid pilgrims coming through the Halat Ammar border point so they could perform their rituals in an atmosphere of security, safety, comfort, stability, and tranquillity.

Another Palestinian, Wael Al-Humaidat, said he was happy for the opportunity to perform his first Hajj. He commented on the excellent services provided by the Saudi government and the warm welcome pilgrims had received.

Al-Humaidat prayed for Saudi Arabia and its people to be protected from evil. He also called for Allah to perpetuate his blessings of security and safety upon Saudi Arabia.

 

 


Boulevard Riyadh’s mixed bag of summer activities to keep enthusiasts busy

For adrenaline junkies, Doos Karting is the perfect place for you to show off your driving skills
For adrenaline junkies, Doos Karting is the perfect place for you to show off your driving skills
Updated 25 June 2022

Boulevard Riyadh’s mixed bag of summer activities to keep enthusiasts busy

For adrenaline junkies, Doos Karting is the perfect place for you to show off your driving skills
  • Karting, online gaming, rock climbing and arts all available
  • Wide array of restaurants, areas to relax and enjoy karaoke

RIYADH: Now that summer has arrived and the school year ended, Boulevard Riyadh City is the place to be with activities for everyone. It’s best to go early because entry is free and the place will be packed.

Doos Karting

For adrenaline junkies, Doos Karting is the perfect place for you to show off your driving skills and win podiums against family and friends.

The pre-Formula 1 stage race lasts anywhere between five and eight laps on two tracks. The first is 435 meters and has three challenging turns. The second is more streamlined, at 465 meters, with only two turns.

You can have a great time and experience an adrenaline rush while traveling at a top speed of 80 km/h.

Up to 10 karters can race concurrently on the multi-level tracks.

Takenda

Avoid the summer heat and enjoy a fantastic fun day in Takenda, the Middle East’s most prominent technology entertainment destination.

Takenda connects to a lounge where people can sit, relax, and enjoy a beverage while taking in the scenery of the boulevard.

You can also have a karaoke night with friends, throw a party with a stage and projector, enjoy a mascot show, and have three hours of VIP parking.

Takenda has over 60,000 games suitable for all ages, whether you are five or 50.

Visitors can play classic ones like bumper cars, arcade, table hockey, novelty, and virtual reality in a modern setting.

Adventure Park

If you like physical activities, the indoor adventure park is for you.

The place allows you to scale 10 different walls inspired by real locations in the Kingdom, including the mountains of Tuwaiq, Shammar, Hijaz, Al-Lawz, Faisal’s Finger, Al-Qara and Souda. There are also other walls mimicking climbing areas in Wadi Lajab, Harrat Rahat and Ain Heet Cave.

Children can also play in the monkey cage or on trampolines.

In the future, the company will open halls in Baha and other regions of Saudi Arabia.

Upark

If you are interested in skateboarding, Upark’s facilities will allow you to enjoy yourself thoroughly.

For beginners, training is provided for one-hour sessions.

Avalanche

Let’s not forget the world’s tallest fun slide in the Avalanche attraction for those daring enough. In the same area, a special section has been set up for those wanting to paint, draw or make pottery.

Up to 10 karters can race simultaneously on the multi-level tracks. (Supplied)

 


Bahrain to be first to connect with Saudi Arabia’s Seha Virtual Hospital

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel meets his Bahraini counterpart Dr. Jalila Al-Sayed in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel meets his Bahraini counterpart Dr. Jalila Al-Sayed in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 25 June 2022

Bahrain to be first to connect with Saudi Arabia’s Seha Virtual Hospital

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel meets his Bahraini counterpart Dr. Jalila Al-Sayed in Riyadh. (SPA)
  • Saudi, Bahraini ministers discuss deal to join digital network

RIYADH: Bahrain is set to become the first country to sign up with Saudi Arabia’s Seha Virtual Hospital, the largest network of its kind in the world.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel recently met his Bahraini counterpart Dr. Jalila Al-Sayed, who is on a visit to the Kingdom, for talks on an agreement that will link Bahrain with the virtual hospital.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The ministers discussed strengthening cooperation between the two countries in a range of health fields, such as medical research, emerging diseases and monitoring post- vaccine complications.

• The two sides also reviewed joint efforts in the field of health insurance, as well as the mobile health care experience in Bahrain.

The hospital was launched in February this year as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to digitalize its healthcare sector.

Al-Jalajel outlined the functions of the Seha Virtual Hospital and its command and control center, and welcomed the prospect of Bahrain becoming the first country to be linked with the facility.

The ministers also discussed strengthening cooperation between the two countries in a range of health fields, such as medical research, emerging diseases and monitoring post-vaccine complications.

Al-Sayed highlighted the importance of cooperation in the fields of genetic diseases and genes, telemedicine and clinical trials.

The two sides also reviewed joint efforts in the field of health insurance, as well as the mobile health care experience in Bahrain.

Later, the Bahraini minister toured the Seha Virtual Hospital and was given a detailed explanation of the facility’s services. She also visited the command and control center.

With a growing live network of 130 connected hospitals, Seha Virtual Hospital is the largest of its kind in the world. The only other virtual hospital to rival it is in the US, with 43 connected hospitals.

Patients of the virtual hospital will no longer need to travel to different parts of the Kingdom to be seen by specialized physicians, nor will they be limited by 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. clinic hours.

Earlier, an official told Arab News that patients can now receive second and third medical opinions from the same consulting room.

Unlike simple video calls with doctors, the virtual hospital allows patients to visit their local hospital and attend a real-time live video clinical session with top specialists from across the Kingdom. During the session, vitals signs can be shared, while tests and X-rays can also be taken and shared with the network of specialists.

Emergency interventions can be provided round the clock, and real-time consultations with top specialists will guide local junior staff in dealing with complex cases.

Seha Virtual Hospital covers 12 main specialties and more than 35 subspecialties, including hospital-at-home follow-ups, where chronically ill patients, from the comfort of their homes, can stay connected with doctors.

 


Classic diners serve up a ‘blast from the past’ on Jeddah Season’s City Walk

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
Updated 24 June 2022

Classic diners serve up a ‘blast from the past’ on Jeddah Season’s City Walk

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
  • In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme”

JEDDAH: Two classic 1950s-themed diner options from Hong Kong have made their way to Jeddah Season’s grand theme park, City Walk.

With vintage music in the background, staff in “soda jerk” uniforms, and a one-page menu of burgers, fries and shakes, Burger Circus offers visitors a “blast from the past” experience.

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter arrived on May 5 and will stay throughout the two months of the Jeddah Season.

Both outlets belong to Black Sheep, a Chinese company with about 35 restaurants in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai.

Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep, explained the concept behind both outlets, adding that it is “an honor” to be operating in Jeddah.

HIGHLIGHT

‘Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,’ said Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep.

“Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,” he said.

“So it’s a little bit of nostalgic childhood memories. He has always wanted to open a diner.”

In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme,” he said.

Burger Circus also offers two side orders, two milkshakes (vanilla and chocolate) and two drinks on its menu.

“We want to bring good food and good stories to Jeddah; we just want to do that,” he said.

“People in Jeddah or in Saudi Arabia are open minded to try new things. There’s room for everything here, we love it here,” he added.

Talking about Butter, Leung said the background story is about a single mother with two children, who works very hard at a diner to make ends meet.

“She’s strong and generous, but she’s also very sassy. That’s Butter,” he said.

“Burger Circus and Butter go hand in hand and go very well together, it sort of came from the same era; diners prefer classic American cake,” he added.

Luke Barry, culinary director for Leylaty Group, worked with Black Sheep in Hong Kong for six years.

“I’ve always loved Black Sheep restaurants. We have a very good relationship, so I thought Jeddah Season is a good opportunity to bring them here,” he said.

“They have 30 to 35 restaurants, niche burger restaurants that are very strong and conceptualized, and Saudi Arabia has a lot of room for what they do. They have amazing restaurants, from casual to premium to Michelin star,” he added.

Barry said that they tried to replicate Hong Kong’s Burger Circus in Jeddah as much as possible.

“We spent 16 hours painting a wall (that is identical to the branch in Hong Kong), the exact posters that you find in Hong Kong, and the uniform is almost exactly the same,” said Barry.

“It was very important to us to use the exact same playlist, to bring Hong Kong’s Burger Circus here,” he added.


Saudi Arabia, Djibouti sign joint cooperation agreement on maritime transport

Saudi Arabia, Djibouti sign joint cooperation agreement on maritime transport
Updated 24 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Djibouti sign joint cooperation agreement on maritime transport

Saudi Arabia, Djibouti sign joint cooperation agreement on maritime transport

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, represented by the Transport General Authority (TGA), has signed a joint maritime transport cooperation agreement with the Department of Maritime Affairs in Djibouti, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Friday.

The agreement was signed by the TGA Vice-President for the Regulatory Sector, Fawaz Al-Sahli and the ambassador of Djibouti to the Kingdom, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammad Ali Hassan, in the presence of a number of transport sector officials in the two countries.

The agreement aims to strengthen relations between the Kingdom and Djibouti at a strategic level and open new horizons for cooperation in various fields, especially maritime transport, one of the pillars of economic development in the world. 

It also looks to encourage trade exchange, facilitate the requirements and procedures for accessing the ports of both countries with their ships, and promote the exchange of experiences and technologies between companies, institutions and maritime institutes in this field.

The agreement includes a mechanism for treating the ships of the two countries with regard to access to their ports, docking and departure, and in cases of emergency and maritime accidents in the territorial waters.