How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism

Special How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism
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A deserted California beach on July 4, 2020 as pandemic curbs hit the travel industry worldwide. (Getty Images)
Special How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism
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A deserted California beach on July 4, 2020 as pandemic curbs hit the travel industry worldwide. (Getty Images)
Special How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism
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People walk past empty tables and chairs in Melbourne, Australia, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2022

How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism

How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism
  • An agreement with Jamaica puts resilient tourism at the heart of the industry’s post-pandemic recovery
  • The pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of tourism not only to pandemics but also extreme weather

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is stepping up its efforts to become the vanguard of a UN pledge to develop a sustainable model of tourism after the sector’s levels of resilience were pushed to breaking point by the pandemic and new dire warnings of tourism’s environmental footprint emerged.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on May 6, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said lessons about tourism’s vulnerability to sudden, unexpected events must be taken from the pandemic — which cost the sector 62 million jobs worldwide — and changes made.

“COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability of the sector, not only to pandemics but also to the effects of extreme weather, so addressing climate change must be at the heart of building a more resilient tourism, and there is no resilience without sustainability,” he said.

“We must work collaboratively, putting sustainable, resilient tourism at the heart of inclusive recovery. Only by doing these things together will we ensure better and more resilient futures for the millions around the world reliant on tourism.”




A partial view shows an ancient Nabataean carved tomb at the archaeological site of Hegra, near the northwestern Saudi city of AlUla. (Photo by 

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) welcomed the Saudi efforts, noting that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 has already provided the blueprint for a “transformative and deeply ambitious” economic strategy, and could do the same for tourism.

A spokesperson for the UNWTO told Arab News: “This ambitious plan aims to reshape the social and cultural landscape, accelerating growth through strategic investment, new industries and leadership.

“It is an opportunity to bring Saudi Arabia’s heritage, culture and hospitality to the world; and deliver on climate and sustainability goals. Properly managed, tourism can play a key role in achieving this vision.”

Scientists have said CO2 emissions from tourism will increase by 25 percent by 2030 compared to 2016 levels, which if left unaddressed could be a bullet for the sector as visitors begin to factor in the impact, and morality, of climate change on their destination choices.

Signaling the Kingdom’s intent to become the shepherd to sustainability, Al-Khateeb and his Jamaican counterpart, Edmund Bartlett, signed earlier this month a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on developing sustainable and resilient tourism between the two countries.

Part of the agreement also included determination to not only embrace the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but to lay out a blueprint that can be rolled out globally for a sustainable model of tourism.




The Taif rose season draws visitors from Saudi Arabia and beyond. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Although firm details on the blueprint have yet to emerge, the UNWTO spokesperson noted that policymakers are “best placed” to play a central role so long as their policies include aims to reduce environmental impacts of consumption and production patterns.

“National tourism planning is a well-established practice among national authorities with national tourism policies covering on average a time frame of 10 years and addressing the same thematic areas across regions,” the spokesperson added.

“Aspects such as human resource development, investment, marketing and promotion, employment, product development and diversification have been factored into the policies as these are relevant aspects for the sustainable economic development of tourism.”

Jonathon Day, associate professor and Marriott School of Hospitality and Tourism Management graduate program director, applauded the Kingdom’s “ambition and commitment,” believing it could become a leader in sustainable development.

“Tourism developed sustainably has the potential to contribute substantially to sustainability challenges faced by Saudi Arabia and the world, and I’m sure that through tourism Saudi Arabia can join the destinations leading in sustainable development,” Day told Arab News.

“The Kingdom has the resources to invest in infrastructure to support sustainability goals and knows that tourism that doesn’t adopt the principles of sustainability can make sustainability issues worse. It requires commitment to achieve positive outcomes.”

Day is not alone in seeing Saudi Arabia’s financial resources as key in any effort it may make to lead the way in green tourism, with Prof. Willy Legrand of the International University of Applied Sciences believing it “would translate” in attracting talent and developing policy.




AlUla, home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the heart of the Kingdom’s tourism ambitions. (Courtesy: Royal Commission of AlUla)

“Not only this, the resources allow the country to develop and implement state of the art (existing) solutions as well as being a pipeline for the testing of new solutions to tackle some of the greater tourism challenges,” Legrand told Arab News.

Architect and sustainable tourism consultant Amine Ahlafi said that while Saudi Arabia had only recently opened for tourism more broadly, it was important to remember it had a rich history of religious tourism, and this was something it could learn from.

Anywhere from 2.5 million to 9 million pilgrims travel to the Kingdom each year, Ahlafi told Arab News that this results in around 15 million plastic cups being used to cater to the water needs of everyone traveling.

“You can of course use technology to recycle all the disposable cups, but sustainable tourism should be about finding ways to raise awareness so that we don’t have to rely on technology,” he said.

“As for developing new tourism, I think they should promote the desert potential of tourism as they can market it as a very interesting place for sustainable tourism — which does not mean they have to reduce the quality.

“We can do luxury combined with sustainability and not in a greenwashing way with the design of luxury desert camps that optimize the natural resources, the sun and the wind for energy.”

Ahlafi said a blueprint would need to be predicated on pushing technology and the habitat you find yourself in. “Technology is the tool, not the solution, the solution is building to suit the environment, not trying to have the environment suit you.”

Legrand said the Kingdom’s capacity to achieve its aims would depend on a “declaration of transparency” in which it not only set out its goals but communicated actions undertaken and results achieved.

Day said it was also important to construct the blueprint not as a series of steps that would work for every country but rather to realize it as a list of questions that all countries could ask of themselves.

“Sustainability and sustainable tourism are ‘wicked problems,’ which means there are many things that need to be done, and it requires many organizations and parts of government to work to achieve common goals,” Day said.

“And while there are a common set of tasks, each destination will have different priorities. So, the questions may be the same — but the answers may be different. For instance, Saudi Arabia probably will focus on water conservation more than some destinations.”

Legrand agreed that the Kingdom’s ability to produce a global blueprint would depend on its ability to recognize that there would be “no one size fits all” approach, but rather a series of questions and inclusion of all stakeholders in the process.

He suggested the questions could include: What are hoteliers’ views on sustainability? Are the restaurateurs capitalizing on local agriculture? Are local communities involved? What are the challenges for these different actors? Are the destination marketers aware?

But he also noted that there were “clear, key topics” that would need to be addressed in a global, universalized manner, not least of which is the elephant in the room: Long-haul air travel.

“Long-haul travel remains a major challenge on the emission front and will remain so for the years to come, although airlines are making progress both in terms of efficiencies and fuel technologies,” he said.

“Transparency at the booking stage is critical to make the right decisions about a trip, here Travalyst and its many members are making progress in providing travelers with that information, such as the carbon footprint of specific airline routes, for example.”

Both Day and Legrand agreed that for Saudi Arabia to meet its ambitions as the vanguard in a push towards sustainable tourism, the country would need to hang its efforts around the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for industry, not least “collaboration and cooperation.”

They face many challenges, foremost of which is improving citizens’ trust in state institutions.

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Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
Updated 17 min 43 sec ago

Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
  • Mujtaba Saeed’s script draws parallels between Makkah and Berlin, and explores the contrasts between traditional values and the modern world

RIYADH: Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed’s relationship with Makkah began at an early age. He fondly recalls family journeys to the vibrant city for Umrah or Hajj, surrounded by people of all ethnicities and nationalities who gathered at the holy place for one common purpose.

He paints a picture of childhood road trips across the multi-toned sand dunes of Saudi Arabia as buses passed by carrying strangers from all walks of life, all chanting the same prayer in a united voice.

Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel.

Mujtaba Saeed’s 2021 film ‘Zawal’ won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award
at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain. (Supplied)

“It was filled with adventure,” he told Arab News. “From a child’s perspective, it was a long trip that never ends. My relationship with Makkah was the idea of traveling to a place.”

The screenwriter and director is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city, which was a big part of his life until he moved to Germany as a young adult to continue his education.

“After that, I didn’t visit (Makkah) for a while but the memories remained,” he said. “I consider (the memories) things that open up questions related to time, connection and the act of travel … I think it’s similar to any Saudi’s relationship to Makkah.”

HIGHLIGHT

Mujtaba Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel. Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script.

He added that the city is a focus for the many individuals and families who visit it as pilgrims throughout their lives.

“I think I grew up with these visuals and they’re filled with emotions; Makkah is a place filled with emotions for me,” he explained.

Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script. It is still a work in progress but he is determined to share its story not only with fellow Saudis but audiences around the world.

“It’s up to everyone to try to engage and integrate with different cultures,” he said. “I think what’s inside us as humans and what motivates us as people is all one.”

The script reflects Saeed’s own life as it revolves around two cities: Makkah and Berlin. Though there are many differences between them there are also similarities, not least a transient nature, with people constantly coming and going: Pilgrims in Makkah, and tourists and students in Berlin.

“These two places are directions (Qiblatan) for many people in the world, so I’m trying to search for the contrasts between the two and how that contrast affects the characters,” he said.

“For me, it’s also really important to see how this young city of Berlin opens up questions for anyone who visits it … questions that relate to our relationships with our bodies, and our connection to ourselves and others.”

Saeed said the search for answers to these questions by the characters in the story creates the conflict that is essential in any drama.

He added that his aim with the script is to explore the contrast between notions relating to the traditional values of “old society” and the modern, globalized world. More importantly, he said, it considers whether diverse groups of individuals, each with their own dynamic and colorful backgrounds, can coexist safely in one place.

“In Makkah, this equation exists,” said Saeed. “From the time I left to study in Germany and then worked there, there was care in a city that was also global. But still, there remains the important question: How can you amplify other voices there?”

He said he feels a responsibility as an artist to amplify voices that often go unheard. As the development of arts and entertainment in the Kingdom continues, as part of which the country aims to become a regional hub for cinema, filmmaking and broader forms of cultural exchange, he believes the growth of Saudi cinema offers an ideal opportunity to achieve that goal.

“At this stage of national renaissance, where we are giving a voice to Saudi cinema, we need, in addition to the work that the Saudi film commission does to develop regulated creations, to have an interest in more collaborative efforts, whether that’s with Europe, India, or other counties,” Saeed said.

“I think cinema will become our language — and it’s a universal language — in the coming years.

“The importance of the European Film Festival in Riyadh is something we can’t argue about and I think it’s important to focus on presenting diverse cinematic content.”

The inaugural EFF, which aimed to promote European cinema and encourage the building of contacts between filmmakers in Europe and Saudi Arabia, took place between June 15 and 22. Saeed believes it was important in terms of helping to bridge cultural gaps and encouraging ongoing communication.

“I don’t think the festival presented films that are new to this audience, because the Saudi audience greatly follows (cinema), but it’s important for European filmmakers to meet this audience,” he said.

Saeed’s other current projects include a screenplay titled “Gharaq,” which translates as “Drowning,” which in June won the Best Feature Film Script award at the 2022 Saudi Film Festival. Saeed said that it explores the duality of forgiveness and revenge, adding: “A person can’t be free unless he forgives.”

The film is prepping for production, with filming due to take place in the east of the Kingdom. He is hopeful it will be a Saudi-German co-production.

Saeed’s 2021 film “Zawal” won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain between June 21 and 23. It tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a refugee camp under quarantine following the outbreak of a mystery pandemic.


Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Updated 01 July 2022

Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
  • The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia's first K-pop festival, Saranghae KSA 22, brought fans from a wide range of backgrounds together under the roof of the Jeddah Superdome for a three-day celebration of Korean music and culture.

K-pop installations, an Umbrella Boulevard and a Cherry Blossoms Avenue provided picture-perfect backgrounds for fans, who were also given a taste of Korean cuisine at stalls selling a range of Korean favorites.

One audience member, Ghazal Mazen, 16, said that she grew up listening to Korean songs because of her older sisters, and has been a fan of Ateez since early 2020.

“I really can’t describe how I feel now. It feels like a dream I have been waiting to live in real life,” she said.

High-quality screens ensured fans were able to see their favorite performers, while a screen suspended from the middle of the dome displayed images taken by audience members at the photo booth, as well as short clips of the bands.

The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations.

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean.

Both bands took a break to meet the audience and answer questions from fans.

On Wednesday, EPEX enjoyed the festive vibe of Jeddah Season by visiting the Historical Jeddah zone, walking through museums and the house of horror, playing games, and winning prizes.

Fans of Ateez spotted the band members shopping at the Red Sea Mall on the same day.

Saturday will mark the last day of the festival with Monsta X and Verivery.

 


Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service
  • The service will be implemented in Riyadh first then gradually cover the rest of the Kingdom’s regions in several phases

RIYADH: The Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. have signed an agreement to launch an air ambulance service in the Kingdom.

The signing, which aims to raise the quality and efficiency of ambulance services to save lives, was attended by Health Minister Fahd Al-Jalajel, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority.

The agreement was signed by President of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority Jalal Al-Owaisi and CEO of The Helicopter Co. Capt. Arnaud Martinez.

The agreement stems from the authority’s belief in the importance of an air ambulance, which can respond quickly to save lives in emergencies and exceptional circumstances — such as locations that are difficult to reach otherwise — in which speed of communication is crucial to providing medical care.

The agreement stipulates the provision of air ambulance helicopters around the clock to transport highway accident casualties and transfer critical cases between hospitals.

The service will be implemented in Riyadh first then gradually cover the rest of the Kingdom’s regions in several phases.

Air ambulance helicopters will also be provided to respond to critical cases at holy sites and will be among the services provided by the authority to pilgrims and visitors during the Hajj season.

Raed Ismail, chairman of the board of directors at The Helicopter Co., said that this agreement is the result of relentless efforts and cooperation with the Saudi Red Crescent Authority and represents an important step in keeping pace with modern health systems that contribute to saving lives.

The Helicopter Co. was established in 2019 by the Public Investment Fund as the first local operator of commercial helicopters. Today, the company owns 17 helicopters that provide air ambulance services and are also available for tourism and business trips. It recently signed an agreement to purchase 42 new helicopters.

The air ambulance service falls within the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as it will contribute to facilitating access to emergency medical care and reduce the percentage of deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents.


Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential
Updated 2 min 57 sec ago

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential
  • The programs will be conducted in Arabic with the courses covering training across video games, film and animation production, breakthroughs in the field of science, immersive art experiences, and music and film discovery

The Diriyah Gate Development Authority has reinforced its commitment to the mission of investing in the personal growth of the community’s youth through the establishment of a series of STEM training programs.

The initiative, “Program Your Passion,” is a STEM-focused community training project in collaboration with DigiPen, the global training institute that seeks to foster and enrich the untapped talent and potential of the local Diriyah youth.

DigiPen, founded as a computer simulation and animation company by Claude Comair in 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia, was the first institution globally to offer a bachelor’s degree in video games programming.

The training programs launched by DGDA will be provided to middle and secondary school students across the Diriyah community. Introducing digital skills will help ensure that students are technically proficient, and will have the chance to explore future job opportunities across Saudi Arabia’s thriving digital economy, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program.

The “Program Your Passion” project will have two main development goals: The first will encourage students to develop their skills in developing video games, while the second will ensure they become proficient in new skillsets like animation design, coding, and much more.

The programs will be conducted in Arabic with the courses covering training across video games, film and animation production, breakthroughs in the field of science, immersive art experiences, and music and film discovery. As a first step last week the program started the training workshops for 12 Saudi trainers, under the supervision of experts from DigiPen.

Ahlam Althunayan, community engagement director at DGDA, highlighted her excitement about the program being introduced across Diriyah schools, saying: “I am delighted to bring this program to the youth of Diriyah, to help nurture them with the skills of tomorrow. We are excited to welcome the world-class programs from DigiPen for the first time to our community. This brings new opportunities for our youth community members.

“Diriyah shines because of its people, and right here in the Jewel of the Kingdom we are certain that ‘Program Your Passion’ will harness new opportunities and empower young Saudi talents with digital tools to share their rich culture and heritage with the world.”

DGDA is committed to empowering Diriyah’s youth and has been working to implement training programs like these to provide unique opportunities for the local community. Earlier this year, DGDA hosted the launch ceremony of the second Madrasti Codes (My School Codes) competition in the heart of the At-Turaif neighborhood, facing the historic Salwa Palace.

In addition, DGDA’s community engagement team also hosts a series of monthly workshops aimed at introducing community-focused initiatives to improve ease of living, and community services across Diriyah.


Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims
Updated 01 July 2022

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims
  • Mohammad Al-Khalaileh cited the Haramain High Speed Railway Project in particular

RIYADH: The Jordanian minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs has praised the development of Saudi Arabia’s transportation services for Hajj pilgrims while making the pilgrimmage himself, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Mohammad Al-Khalaileh cited the Haramain High Speed Railway Project in particular, one of the major projects designed to serve pilgrims and Umrah performers who seek to visit the two holy mosques.

In a statement to SPA, before his departure to the holy sites in Makkah on board Haramain High Speed Railway from Madinah, the minister reiterated that Jordanian pilgrims will benefit from the diversity of transportation services that enables pilgrims to easily and quickly move around, whether by train, land transport via buses, or domestic air transport.

He added that this reflected the sincere and great efforts made by the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The minister extended his appreciation and gratitude to the Kingdom’s government for all the services and facilities provided to pilgrims to facilitate the Hajj journey.