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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Prizewinning Saudi student speaks of journey to competition success

Lama won gold at the Gulf Physics Olympiad and a bronze each at the international and Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiads. (SPA)
Lama won gold at the Gulf Physics Olympiad and a bronze each at the international and Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiads. (SPA)
Updated 13 August 2022

Prizewinning Saudi student speaks of journey to competition success

Lama won gold at the Gulf Physics Olympiad and a bronze each at the international and Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiads. (SPA)
  • Lama Al-Ahdal scooped medals in Physics Olympiads and made her country proud

JEDDAH: Prizewinning Saudi student Lama Al-Ahdal, who has been scooping medals at Physics Olympiads, says her competition success motivates her to continue with her passion and achieve great things for the Kingdom.

She won gold at the Gulf Physics Olympiad, a bronze at the International Physics Olympiad, and a bronze at the Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiad.

Al-Ahdal spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the beginning of her journey in the Physics Olympiad through the Mawhoob Competition, which she took part in several times.

It was her participation in 2018 that led to her nomination to attend training forums, a path that would eventually lead her to victory.

“I started attending basic courses in Jeddah, through which I qualified and passed the required tests. I was nominated for the Winter Forum at Princess Nourah University in Riyadh, then trained with the physics team, from which a number of students in the Kingdom would qualify to form the Saudi team for the Physics Olympiad.

HIGHLIGHT

It was her participation in 2018 that led to her nomination to attend training forums, a path that would eventually lead her to victory.

“At the beginning of 2019, we underwent intense eight-hour training, both remotely and at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to prepare for international competitions. I learned how to calculate the strength of the Earth's magnetic field using a string and two pieces of magnets, how electricity can be generated by heating two pieces of metal, how to measure the thickness of a candy wrapper using a laser, and other scientific experiments.

“The top five students were then nominated to represent the Kingdom, and thankfully I made it and snatched the gold medal in the Gulf Physics Olympiad, the bronze medal in the Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiad, and the bronze medal in the International Physics Olympiad.”

Joining the Saudi physics team and undergoing training helped her to discover that physics was a beautiful subject. “I learned a lot from it and the Olympiad experience.”

Her participation increased her skills and developed her thinking by getting to know competitors from different countries.

“I also developed my time management skills since the training continued even during school days. My father and mother had a major role in helping me achieve my goals and encouraging me to try new things to gain more skills and learn more,” she said.

Setting a specific goal and working to achieve it was the most important thing that motivated her to take up the challenge and try new things.

Her father, Abdul Rahman Al-Ahdal, said his daughter’s journey was full of scientific challenges.

“She has always been a talented child and a bright student, with a  promising future ahead of her. God blessed her with a group of highly experienced trainers and supervisors. It is important to focus and draw a plan and work to achieve it.

“I thank King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, and everyone responsible for helping the sons and daughters of the Kingdom partake in forums of creativity, innovation and scientific Olympiad, and other scientific activities.”


Visitors take a trip to Saudi Arabia’s Taif to rejuvenate in nature

The popular tourist location has a number of hotels and resorts designed and built to fit in with the natural landscape. (SPA)
The popular tourist location has a number of hotels and resorts designed and built to fit in with the natural landscape. (SPA)
Updated 13 August 2022

Visitors take a trip to Saudi Arabia’s Taif to rejuvenate in nature

The popular tourist location has a number of hotels and resorts designed and built to fit in with the natural landscape. (SPA)
  • The region has more than 2,000 flower farms that produce more than 200 million roses every season

TAIF: Visitors from all over the Kingdom and the Gulf are flocking to Taif this summer to get respite from the heat and rejuvenate in the region’s mountains.

The popular tourist location has a number of hotels and resorts designed and built to fit in with the natural landscape, several of which are also working farms or have beautiful gardens planted with the famous Taif roses and wild plants including basil, al-baitran, and marjoram.

Tourists and visitors can also stay in cozy, rural hostels made of old stone ornamented with carvings and sculptures of animals, where they can enjoy stunning views of the mountains and valleys of Taif, which are home to a variety of rare birds.

The city and other nearby areas such as Al-Hada and Al-Shifa are also famous for their fruits.

The region has more than 2,000 flower farms that produce more than 200 million roses every season. Taif roses have historic, economic and religious importance. The oil is used to perfume the walls of the Kaaba, which is also washed twice annually with its scented water.

Besides basking in nature, visitors to Taif can also visit museums, local markets, rose factories in Al-Shafa and Al-Hada, the cable car, a strawberry farm, the zoo, and historic castles.

 


 


Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu
Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu

Saudi forces and US marines begin joint training exercise in Yanbu
  • The month-long drill includes logistical exercises and operations with live ammunition

RIYADH: The Royal Saudi Armed Forces and US Marine Corps on Saturday launched a joint training exercise along the Red Sea coast in the western city of Yanbu, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said.

The “Outrageous Anger 22” exercise was inaugurated in the presence of Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Dibais, commander of the western sector, and Maj. Gen. Paul Rock, commander of the Marine Corps at the US Central Command, as well as senior officers from the Saudi armed forces and US Army.

An inspection tour included sites where the two forces will conduct the joint operations.

Col. Saud Al-Aqili, commander of the exercise, said that it aims to rehearse implementation of bilateral operational and logistical plans, exchange expertise between the two sides, and develop complementary work with civil authorities.

Col. Matthew Hakula, commander of the US forces, said that the joint maneuvers will raise combat readiness, as well as strengthen compatibility between Saudi and US troops.

The month-long drill includes logistical exercises and operations with live ammunition.


Saudi Arabia reports 106 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

68 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
68 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi Arabia reports 106 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

68 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
  • 3,886 COVID-19 cases were still active, adding that 6,376 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to almost 44 million

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia reported 106 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, according to the Ministry of Health. As a result, the total number of cases in the Kingdom over the course of the pandemic grew to 811,853.

The authorities also confirmed three new COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total number of fatalities to 9,269.

Of the new infections, 28 were recorded in Riyadh, 19 in Jeddah, 14 in Dammam, 5 in Makkah and 4 in Madinah. Several other cities recorded fewer than 20 new cases each.

The ministry also announced that 134 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom over the course of the pandemic to 798,698.

It said that 3,886 COVID-19 cases were still active, adding that 6,376 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to almost 44 million.

The ministry said that of the current cases, 2 were in critical condition.

Nearly 68 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign began, with more than 25 million people fully vaccinated.

The ministry, which has 587 vaccine centers across the country, urged people who had not yet received a jab to register for a series of injections through the Sehhaty app.

 


Who’s Who: Abdulrahman Alotaibi, director of SMEs Training for Capacity Building at Monsha’at

Abdulrahman Alotaibi
Abdulrahman Alotaibi
Updated 13 August 2022

Who’s Who: Abdulrahman Alotaibi, director of SMEs Training for Capacity Building at Monsha’at

Abdulrahman Alotaibi

Abdulrahman Alotaibi has been the director of SMEs Training for Capacity Building at the General Authority for Small and Medium Size Enterprises, also known as, Monsha’at, since 2020.

Alotaibi’s current role includes overseeing the development of capacity-building solutions for SMEs and entrepreneurs through Monsha’at Academy’s online, local and international programs.

These programs support the Saudi business community by offering specialized skills in entrepreneurship, business planning, financial management and marketing.

Alotaibi started his career in Saudi Aramco in 2006 and held various roles in operations, accounting and planning.

He later joined the Saudi Export Development Authority in 2017 as an exporters training manager. He led numerous projects and programs to help Saudi companies to access and develop international markets.

Alotaibi holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from King Abdulaziz University and a master’s in business administration from Al-Yamamah University.

He is a certified global business professional from NASBITE International and also certified in market analysis tools by the UN’s International Trade Center, ITC.  

In 2021, he published a book titled “Export Business Development —  A Guide to International Markets.” The work provides the necessary knowledge and best practices to help business people to develop and execute global business plans, evaluate opportunities, manage market challenges and grow international sales.

Working closely with various businesses and trade support organizations, Alotaibi has delivered workshops and advisory sessions in export and international trade. He also contributes to newspapers and other business media outlets.