Mideast capitalizes on tourism opportunities to drive regional growth
Updated 29 November 2022
RIYADH: For decades, the Middle East relied on its economic success by cashing in on its rich natural resources, such as oil. But now, the region has veered from the path to building a tourism industry using its soft power of culture and nature.
“We are blessed to be the first region in Saudi Arabia to have an approved strategy by the government out of the 13 provinces, and all measures to protect nature and the culture (of the Kingdom) are underway,” said Prince Turki bin Talal, chairman of Aseer Development Authority, while speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Riyadh on Tuesday.
The authority has been under the spotlight since last September when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a strategy to develop the Aseer region into a global tourism destination highlighted as the “Arabian Highland” by investing SR50 billion ($13.3 billion).
“The idea is to make Aseer a great place to live, not just to visit. So, whoever comes here comes back again. That’s really our desire,” said Prince Turki.
The enthusiasm is palpable in Oman, a nation investing in human capital development to drive tourism in the country and the entire region.
“There are a number of Omanis working in Qatar for the World Cup and also in the hospitality sector. They have been trained in Oman with an international curriculum. We are developing them for the country and helping the region,” said Hashil Al Mahrouqi, CEO of Oman Tourism Development Co.
On the other hand, Bahrain is geared up for its cruise tourism as it expects more than 5,000 tourists to visit the country in the six months until May next year as part of the 2022-2023 cruise season.
Cruise tourism represents an integral part of the nation’s 2022-2026 strategy to promote Bahrain’s status as a global tourism hub.
“We have done very well in creating those unique tourism offerings that leave Bahrain with a story to tell,” said Fatima Al Sairafi, Minister of Tourism, Bahrain.
In fact, the Red Sea is opening the floodgates of tourism opportunities in the region, with countries collaborating to draw global tourism traffic toward the Middle East.
“Marketing cruising in the Red Sea region has much better chances of success than just marketing Saudi Arabia by itself,” said Fawaz Farooqui, managing director of Cruise Saudi, a 100 percent subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund that works with the government to build the offshore and onshore cruise ecosystem.
The company has collaborated with Egypt and Jordan to develop cruise tourism in the region and is currently in talks with Oman to hoist their sails when the wind is fair.
Saudi heritage town Diriyah to host 16 additional global hotel brands
Updated 29 November 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s historic town Diriyah is set to host 16 new hotels as its master developer Diriyah Gate Development Authority has signed deals with additional global hospitality brands to bring its total of hotel management agreements to 32.
These new hotels will be situated across two of DGDA’s masterplan areas – Diriyah and Wadi Safar.
Amongst the luxury hotels to open are Anantara, part of Minor Hotels; Corinthia Hotels; Marriott International’s EDITION Hotels; Taj Hotels; The Langham and the Waldorf Astoria Diriyah.
The birthplace of the Kingdom will also offer several upscale hotel options: 1 Hotels; Pendry Hotels & Resorts; and Treehouse Hotel.
Additionally, Diriyah’s hospitality masterplan will unveil several upscale lifestyle hotel choices including Hyatt Place; Marriott International’s Moxy Hotels and Radisson Hotel Group’s Radisson RED brand.
Agreements for hotels in Wadi Safar have been signed including Faena Group via a global venture with hospitality group Accor; Montage Hotels & Resorts; and The Chedi, by GHM Hotels.
The infrastructure of Diriyah’s first phase of hotel construction will feature local landscape and traditional Najdi design themes.
DGDA's group CEO Jerry Inzerillo, said: “We are excited to further Diriyah’s position as Saudi Arabia’s historical and cultural epicenter by bringing international hoteliers to operate within Diriyah. Each and every hotel brand offers a special, distinctive experience for visitors, all united by a shared promise to provide a unique set of high-quality services measured to global standards for all of Diriyah’s guests.”
He said the opening of these hotels signifies their ongoing promise to transform Diriyah into one of the greatest gathering places in the world, welcoming visitors from around the world into the Kingdom, in line with Vision 2030’s aims and objectives.
Previously announced hotel management agreements included Address Hotels + Resorts, Armani Hotels & Resorts. Baccarat Hotels & Resorts, Campbell Gray Hotels, Capella Hotels and Resorts, Fauchon L’Hotel, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, LXR Hotels & Resorts, Orient Express Hotels, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Park Hyatt Hotels, Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts.
Diriyah recently announced the opening of two of its most significant locations: At-Turaif, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Bujairi Terrace, a premium dining destination overlooking At-Turaif.
Businesses need to be more involved to reach UN goals on poverty and hunger: Ban Ki-moon
Updated 29 November 2022
RIYADH: UN goals on ending poverty and eradicating hunger by 2030 are set to be missed as governments, businesses, and civil societies are not working properly together, according to the organization’s former secretary-general.
Speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh on Nov. 29, Ban Ki-moon said that it is extremely unlikely the world will achieve all 17 sustainable development goals within the next eight years.
Other targets include quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy.
“It is almost impossible to achieve our 17 sustainable development goals by 2030, instead it may go beyond 2053. For African countries, it may go up to 2060,” said Ki-moon.
He added: “The 17 SDG goals demand global partnerships between governments, business companies and civil societies. When this trilateral partnership starts working, then I think we can do it.”
During his talk, he also highlighted the importance of having global collaboration and cooperation between governments to achieve sustainability goals.
“Geopolitical tensions including the illegal ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine represent one of the most dangerous moments for global security in decades. I am deeply concerned that world leaders are not united,” he added.
Ki-moon further noted that the travel and tourism sector can play a crucial role in uniting the world.
“The travel and tourism sector has a crucial role to play in ensuring cross-border collaboration, which will result in a peaceful and sustainable future, underpinned by justice, solidarity and prosperity,” Ki-moon added.
Citing a UN World Food Program report, the former Secretary General warned that there will be at least 1.9 billion people who will be suffering from poverty, famine, and starvation by 2023.
He went on and said that climate change is burning the earth, and humans will witness a sixth mass extinction in the next 100 years if sufficient climate actions are not taken.
“Our planet is on fire, both literally and figuratively as the climate crisis is deepening with surging temperatures, raging floods, and rising sea levels. Climate change is approaching much faster than one may think,” said Ki-moon.
He pointed out that business communities, with the help of governments, can play a pivotal part in changing the future of planet Earth.
“Business communities can change the world in a better manner by investing wisely, thus achieving sustainable development goals and also helping implement the Paris climate agreement,” he said.
Saudi Arabia driving post-pandemic recovery of global tourism sector
Updated 29 November 2022
RIYADH: As the travel and tourism industry has a critical role to play in the global economy’s recovery from the pandemic, Saudi Arabia is leading the way through collaboration and investment in the sector, a leading minister has confirmed.
As the global leaders gathered at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih said his ministry and the Public Investment Fund are supporting the tourism sector as it is part of the Kingdom’s diversification strategy.
"We are investing in it for the greater good. Obviously, the impact it has on the standing of the country is very high,” he said during an appearance on a discussion panel.
He said that the industry is a double-digit proportion of the global gross domestic product and this sector impacts all aspects of the economy.
“We saw during the pandemic if the sector loses, everyone loses — society loses, the macro economy loses, and the spillover effect is quite incredible,” he said, adding that one shouldn’t measure the sector purely by macro numbers of 10, 12, or 15 percent of GDP.
Despite a perception that travel and tourism is a difficult industry and was among the last to recover from the pandemic, the minister contested that it is a sector where one can make money, no matter where in the value chain someone is positioned.
Speaking at the same panel, Princess Haifa Al Saud, the Kingdom’s vice minister of tourism, emphasized the need for collaboration as the tourism industry recovers from the pandemic.
“It means we all have to have one vision, set clear targets, and work together to deliver — which we are doing today in Saudi Arabia,” she said, adding that is why the Kingdom is the fastest growing economy within the G20 countries for tourism, with a 121 percent increase according to the UN World Tourism Organization.
She revealed that during the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia was the first country to bring the public and private sectors to the table to deal with the post-pandemic issues.
The vice minister said the government is amending its regulations and policies as per the need of the industry after having feedback from the private sector.
“For example, the criteria for hotel classifications which we launched three years ago are being amended based on the feedback we received from the private sector as we understand one size doesn’t fit all,” she said.
The Princess also revealed that through the ease of doing business, the government is going to launch 28 initiatives this year in order to facilitate the investor’s journey.
The UN World Tourism Organization Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili, who was also part of the panel discussion, said that two years ago no one knew when the world would recover from the pandemic.
"People were saying we will recover in 2027; some of them were saying 2023. But the first nine months of this year showed that 700 million travelers are back. This is 65 percent of the best year we had in 2018-19,” he said.
Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano agreed that anyone that had any questions about the resilience of travel has had those questions answered. “The speed with which travel has recovered has been remarkable,” he said.
He pointed out that the recovery has been uneven, however, adding: “In many markets around the world, we have seen extraordinarily strong recovery. Opening of borders has been the catalyst to that recovery. But we look at Greater China, the zero-Covid policy has continued to dampen the recovery in a meaningful way.”
Many countries, when working on their post-recovery plan, chose to spend on other sectors first than tourism, a trend which Saudi Arabia bucked.
According to Greg O’Hara, founder and senior managing director of Certares, the Kingdom has been absolutely committed to investing in its own tourism infrastructure, and argued the world is going to change as all the developing nations are becoming more wealthy.
“Where they are going to travel and how they are going to travel, are going to be completely different. Saudi Arabia is making a bet on itself and the rest of the world has to deliver to the travelers,” said O’Hara.
‘Middle East tourist plans far better than doom and gloom of Europe’: Accor CEO
Updated 29 November 2022
RIYADH: The head of the largest hospitality firm in Europe insists the world should be learning from the Middle East’s “mind boggling” tourism plans as he praised the region’s ambitions in the sector.
Speaking during a discussion at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh on Nov. 29, Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor, said all the pieces were in place for the Middle East’s tourism industry — and Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular — to thrive.
He added the key to attracting the next generation of travelers was to ensure the local economy was engaged with global ambitions, as tourists sought to experience authentic food and culture.
Reflecting on Saudi Arabia’s progress, Bazin said: “I've never ever seen a country in my life — I am 61 years old — where you have a leader, a plan, expertise, financial resources, the timeline.
“It's mind boggling in ten years what is being built here, and I wish we can get that in many other countries.
“I am leaving the doom and gloom of Europe, and finally coming to the Middle East, to Saudi, to the UAE.
“It’s funny you guys are teaching us a lot of things over the last ten years.”
Speaking about shifting the industry's mindset, Bazin said the key is encouraging travel sectors around the world to think locally, not globally.
“The hotels of tomorrow should be catered for the locals, not for the travelers. That's a major shift, and if you succeed in seducing the locals, then the travelers will pick your hotel as a place to be,” he said, adding: “Make yourself one of the players domestically and the travelers will know you exist. Just be a local, act as a local, think as a local.”
The focus on thinking “local” was echoed by the UAE’s Minister of Economy Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri.
He argued that the new generation of tourists is looking for sustainable travel where they have access to locally produced goods and goods.
“The future of infrastructure really depends on that sustainability aspect. The youth are smarter now, and consider what they want to be part of. For instance, a hotel with accessibility to the local market, to buy their fresh groceries, their apples from the local farms. And this is an aspect of infrastructure,” he said.
Stephen Scherr, CEO of The Hertz Corporation, used his contribution to the panel to talk about infrastructure's key role in growing tourism sectors around the world.
“You need to build infrastructure that is accommodating and inviting of the populations that you want to be traveling around,” he said.
Scherr went on to cite the importance of public-private partnerships in ensuring such infrastructure exists, and said: “The truth is for the private sector alone, the infrastructure that's necessary is too expensive, prohibitively expensive, in terms of investment that needs to made, so if you are going to serve a broader market the government needs to step in and make this kind of investment.”