What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia
Research by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute indicates a “strong wave” in travel in 2023
Within 10 days of Saudi e-visa launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered the country, with China topping the list
Updated 07 December 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s carefully laid plan to expand its tourism sector is showing fruition as it marches forward to meet its target of attracting 100 million visitors to the Kingdom by 2030.
This is evident from the fact that the Kingdom recently topped the G20 countries list for the flow rating of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022, with international arrivals reaching 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
For its part, China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a huge source of potential tourists.
Speaking to CNBC in October, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said: “China used to be a very important market, but it is still closed. This year, we’ve seen a great demand from Europe and the US. I absolutely would love to see some of these restrictions ease because Chinese market is a very big market, not only for Saudi Arabia but for all the other countries.”
China has a zero COVID-19 policy, which includes lockdowns, quarantining and rigorous testing, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, even as other countries ease travel and other restrictions and try to shift to a long-term strategy of living with the virus.
Following the launch of the e-visa in September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism issued more than 350,000 tourist visas in the first three months of that year alone.
Within the first 10 days of the launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia with China topping the list and the UK and the US in the second and third place respectively.
Research released by China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in May indicates a “strong wave” in Chinese outbound travel in 2023, with a return to 2019 numbers by 2024. “The preparation, the acquisition of knowledge and the adaptation of services needs to be done now, before the wave arrives,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, the institute’s CEO.
Saudi Arabia is well prepared for the return of Chinese travelers, with many institutions adopting the guidelines of the Welcome Chinese Certification program, which is considered the international standard for travel and hospitality services for visitors from the country.
The Riyadh Airports Co., which manages and operates King Khalid International Airport, said that it is working on implementing standards designed to make the airport and its services more accessible and user friendly for Chinese visitors.
The company said the new facilities will improve the visitor experience for tourists from China by helping to overcome the language barrier and providing key services, including payment systems that are compatible with those in their home country. The initiative also highlights the availability of e-visas for Chinese travelers who want to visit the Kingdom.
An important part of the strategy to boost the Kingdom’s entertainment and tourism offerings is Red Sea Global. RSG is currently overseeing the creation of two luxury tourism destinations in Saudi Arabia: The Red Sea and Amaala.
Anton Bawab, group head of operations at RSG, foresees an upswing in the number of Chinese tourists once restrictions are lifted, and that the Kingdom and RSG’s destinations are prepared to welcome them.
“The Chinese market has shown tremendous potential for any country that opened up to it – Europe, Dubai, Maldives,” he said.
“Pre-COVID, Chinese tourists accounted for almost one fifth of global tourism spending. Saudi has huge potential to attract Chinese travelers, and RSG in particular. At the Red Sea, Chinese tourists can get a similar experience to the Maldives, which is a popular destination choice for them. But they can also couple it with culture, shopping and heritage.”
How language and culture became pillars of Saudi-China friendship
Celebration of Chinese New Year as part of Riyadh Season marked the start of a new era in bilateral relations
Exchanges of books, artistic fusions, and a cultural cooperation award have helped cement the relationship
Updated 07 December 2022
RIYADH: Since Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China formalized diplomatic relations in 1990, cultural ties between the two countries have blossomed into a robust relationship based on mutual respect.
Affirming the importance of this deep friendship, the iconic Boulevard Riyadh City in February this year celebrated Chinese New Year as part of the Riyadh Season entertainment festival.
The colorful occasion was attended by Chen Weiqing, the Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, officials from the embassy, and a large number of visitors.
The celebration took several forms across the Boulevard zone. All its screens were lit red by midnight, displaying beautiful Chinese cultural images such as traditional houses and red lanterns, with congratulatory remarks written in Chinese, Arabic and English.
On the occasion Weiqing told Arab News: “The Spring Festival is the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people. The Boulevard Riyadh City lights up the symbolic red color of China, letting the Chinese people around the world feel the cordial greetings and best wishes from our Saudi friends.”
He added: “This is a great honor to celebrate our Lunar New Year, and we hope in this new year we will strengthen our bilateral relationship and friendship in different fields. This is the beginning of a new cultural era in bilateral relations. We have a lot of common principles, now we have a very strong cultural linkage, so I think in the future China and Saudi Arabia will be one of the closest partners.”
Further strengthening the cultural bonds, the world premiere of “Nine Songs” last Saturday filled the Saudi city of AlUla with excitement, with every seat occupied at the outdoor Wadi Al-Fann venue.
Created especially for AlUla by Rui Fu, the Chinese musician, vocalist and artistic director, “Nine Songs” brought together a world-class ensemble of performers from across the globe. Fu’s vocals were accompanied by new compositions played on violin, harp, dulcimer, oud, guqin and taiko drums, with remarkable costumes, scenery and lighting adding to the theatrical display.
Fu’s new work is inspired by the Chu Ci (Songs of Chu), an ancient anthology of Chinese poetry from the first century B.C., while also responding to AlUla’s stunning geological structures.
In June this year King Fahd National Library in Riyadh added to its collection Chinese books donated by the National Library of China.
The books — covering subjects including history, economics, tourism and culture — are distributed in Arabic and English. They include literature on the Chinese language and some for children, which serve as an opportunity for Saudis to become familiar with the country and its culture.
Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library, said: “We attach great importance to strengthening cooperation in the cultural field with the National Library of China.”
In July this year China’s Sinopec, one of the largest energy and chemical companies in the world, gifted 2,000 books on Chinese culture to King Fahd National Library.
It was marked in a ceremony attended by senior officials from both countries, including Beijing’s ambassador, who inaugurated the Chinese books corner at the library.
The section was established by Sinopec as part of its mission “to offer a window on China for Saudi citizens, provide reference books for students, beneficiaries, and graduates, and provide support for teaching Chinese in the Kingdom.”
Significantly, Saudi Arabia announced a cultural cooperation award with China on the occasion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the country in February 2019.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of culture, announced the “Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China.”
The announcement was made during Prince Badr’s visit to the King Abdulaziz Public Library at Beijing University. The library was inaugurated in 2017 by King Salman during his official visit to China, when the monarch was also awarded an honorary doctorate.
The cultural award honors outstanding Saudi and Chinese academics, linguists and innovators. The categories include for the best scientific research in the Arabic language, artistic creative work, translation of a book from Arabic to Chinese and vice versa. In addition, there are prizes for personality of the year and the most influential personality in cultural circles for the year. The awards form part of the common objectives of both the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“This partnership in the name of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is an embodiment for joint commitment to building cultural bridges between the two countries, developing the cultural exchange and enhancing artistic and academic opportunities for our citizens,” the minister has said.
During the crown prince’s 2019 tour Saudi Arabia and China agreed to include the Chinese language as part of the curriculum at schools and universities in the Kingdom.
The agreement came during a meeting between the crown prince and a high-level Chinese delegation in Beijing, in a bid to strengthen bilateral friendship and cultural cooperation.
The inclusion of the Chinese language is aimed at enhancing the cultural diversity of students in the Kingdom. It is an important step toward opening new academic horizons for students of various educational levels, will serve as a bridge between the two people, and promote trade and cultural ties.
Moreover, King Abdulaziz Public Library in April this year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bayt El-Hekma Chinese Group as part of the two nations’ cultural cooperation. The MoU includes joint translations and publications, mutual visits, and the holding of scientific meetings and specialized exhibitions.
Prince Badr held a virtual meeting with the Chinese ambassador in April 2021 to discuss ways to enhance Saudi-Chinese cultural exchange, including with regard to the Prince Mohammed bin Salman award and the Saudi-Chinese Cultural Year initiative.
Arab-China economic ties in focus as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi Arabia visit
Arab League has expressed hope that planned summit would prove a milestone in the strategic partnership
Saudi Arabia is at present China’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa region
Updated 07 December 2022
RIYADH: Asia’s largest economy is set to showcase its burgeoning economic and trade ties with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries during two summits on cooperation and development in the Kingdom this week.
In September, the Arab League expressed hope that the planned summits would prove to be a milestone in the strategic partnership between Arab countries and China.
The Chinese foreign ministry has released a comprehensive review of China’s long-standing relations with Arab countries, and highlighted the strategic mutual trust in Arab-Chinese ties in the new era, which Chinese experts believe points out the future direction of cooperation.
The study highlights the friendship between China and Arab states that dates back to ancient times, China-Arab relations in the new era, and how China-Arab cooperation is developing rapidly amidst intertwined changes and building a China-Arab community with a shared future.
The study also asserts that China and Arab states face similar opportunities and challenges, according to a recent report in China’s Global Times newspaper.
The report quotes Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesperson, as saying that China views Arab states as strategic partners in pursuit of peaceful development, further cooperation with developing countries and building a community with a shared future for mankind.
Saudi Arabia is at present China’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and is also the top global supplier of crude oil to the Asian giant.
Even though Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia in terms of crude exports to China by offering discounted oil, the Arab nation rebounded strongly in October by exporting 7.53 million tons of oil in October 2022 and reclaimed the position of the biggest oil exporter to the Asian giant.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s oil accounted for 17.4 percent of China’s total crude imports, worth $35.5 billion. It happened when China’s crude imports fell for the first time in 20 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier in October, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and China’s national energy administrator, Zhang Jianhua, discussed ways to strengthen cooperation and bilateral ties in the field of energy.
During the virtual meeting, the two sides discussed cooperation and joint investments, stressing the importance of electricity and renewables and collaborating in the clean hydrogen field through research and development.
China’s trade relationship with Saudi Arabia is not just confined to the energy sector, as both countries share strong non-oil export and import activities.
When Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports and re-exports surged by 13.1 percent to $20.86 billion in the third quarter of this year, China remained the Kingdom’s primary trading partner, with 16.4 percent of the total exports.
In the third quarter, the Kingdom’s merchandise imports grew to SR181.1 billion ($48.8 billion), with China attaining 20.7 percent of the share and the topping of the list.
According to the United Nations Comtrade database on international trade, Chinese exports to the Kingdom amounted to a whopping $30.32 billion in 2021.
Chinese exports to the Kingdom were dominated by electrical and electronic equipment, which totaled $4.39 billion, followed by machinery, nuclear reactors and boilers at $3.20 billion.
Of the total electronic equipment exports, transmission apparatus for radiotelephony, televisions, cameras and cordless phones accounted for $1.85 billion, a clear indication of the rising popularity of Chinese smartphone brands like One Plus, Huawei, Poco, Realme, and Vivo in the Kingdom.
On the other hand, the value of Saudi exports to China was worth $10.96 billion last year, driven by organic chemicals exports, which amounted to $5.15 billion.
Last year, the Kingdom also exported plastics and mineral fuels worth $3.10 billion and $1.36 billion, respectively.
Earlier in April, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a phone call that Beijing always prioritizes deepening ties with Riyadh.
President Xi also added that China wants high-level cooperation in energy, trade and high-tech industries with Saudi Arabia.
According to news reports, the Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Gulf states and other MENA countries concerning energy, security and investments.
Birthplace of Saudi state comes to life with opening of Bujairi Terrace, Turaif
Marking the first phase of the $50 billion Diriyah Gate Development Authority project, the opening signals a new chapter in the area’s history
Updated 06 December 2022
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: The prominent citadel of Salwa Palace, made from mudbricks three centuries ago in the historic Turaif district, the first capital of the Saudi dynasty, was illuminated on Dec. 4 with a spectacular light display in celebration of its opening to the public.
Just a few steps away, also in the historic Diriyah area, the Bujairi Terrace, a slew of high-end dining experiences ready to welcome over 3,000 people within an area of 15,000 square meters and featuring both Saudi and top international restaurants, opened to its first visitors.
It was a historic day for Saudi Arabia as the opening of both sites marked the first phase of completion for the $50 billion project of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
“This area is very special because it is the birthplace of the Kingdom,” Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO at the DGDA told Arab News. “It’s the ancestral home of Al-Saud, and it is the source of national identity and pride for all Saudis and all Arabs.”
To mark the special day, traditional performers in national dress put on a show and distributed gifts to visitors.
Stunning illuminated walkways lead the way through new buildings reflective of traditional mudbrick Arabian homes and lampposts decorated in the Najdi style typical to central Arabia. Palm trees line the Wadi Hanifa that separates the Bujairi Terrace from Turaif.
Visitors can walk over a bridge after dining at the Bujairi Terrace to visit the recently restored ruins of the original seat of the Al-Saud dynasty, taking the same steps as Saudi rulers did centuries ago.
What distinguishes the Bujairi Terrace from other high-end dining areas in the Gulf is the balanced offering of Saudi cuisine alongside top-notch international Michelin-star brands.
Maiz and Takya, two Saudi restaurants, offer a mix of traditional and contemporary cuisine within sleek settings decorated with a modern take on native Najdi patterns and architecture.
“We are offering specialties from the 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia,” Bader Al-Shaikh, a chef at Maiz, told Arab News.
“The idea was to create a place where people can dine in comfort and peace,” Hessah Al-Mutawa, owner of Takya, told Arab News. “We offer a contemporary fusion of traditional Saudi dishes.”
Inzerillo said that, in addition to the first 20 restaurants already present at the site — including well-known names like Angelina Paris, Café de L’Esplanade, Flamingo Room by tashas, which over the last few years has taken neighboring Dubai by storm — there are other 10 in the works for the second phase of development.
Six million trees and plants have also been incorporated into the area so that visitors can walk for hours, enjoying the natural and historic surroundings before and after dining at world-class restaurants.
Bruno, the famed French restaurant from the south of France, also opened in Bujairi, marking its second branch abroad after St. Petersburg, Russia. Saudi-owned gastronomical brands include GRIND, Somewhere, SUGAR and Sum + Things.
Upon the completion of the DGDA project, scheduled to be finished in 2030, Diriyah will be home to cultural, educational and entertainment shows, along with retail and hospitality facilities. The latter will include 38 hotels, in addition to a series of museums, cultural and academic institutes and retail areas.
The destination is expected to add around SR27 billion ($7.2 billion) to the country’s gross domestic product and create 55,000 jobs, with a focus on upskilling women.
The historic area of Diriyah, known for its Bedouin hospitality and culture, is experiencing a renaissance through a celebration of its past and present.
Inzerillo stated: “Now, from today, it is going to be one of the great gathering places in the world. Everybody will come.”
Saudi Arabia and China: Chronicle of a strategic partnership
Leaders have worked steadily since the establishment of diplomatic relations to strengthen bilateral ties
President Jiang Zemin became the first Chinese head of state to visit Saudi Arabia in 1999
Updated 07 December 2022
RIYADH: China’s President Xi Jinping embarks on an official visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday at the invitation of King Salman, during which the leaders of both countries will attend a Saudi-Chinese summit, a Gulf-Chinese summit, and an Arab-Chinese summit for cooperation and development.
Since diplomatic ties were established more than three decades ago, the leaders of both Saudi Arabia and China have worked steadily to develop and enhance the bilateral relationship. Here is a timeline of some of the key developments in the Saudi-Chinese relations.
The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1990.
Nine years later, China’s President Jiang Zemin became the first Chinese head of state to visit the Kingdom. The high point of the 1999 visit was the signing of the Strategic Oil Cooperation agreement.
In 2004 Saudi Arabia and China initiated a series of regular political meetings. Sinopec, the Chinese state-run energy company, signed an agreement to explore for gas in the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter.
Two years later, King Abdullah became the first Saudi head of state to visit China officially and sign several major agreements on energy cooperation.
The 2006 visit served as an opportunity to discuss broader issues of economic trade, technical accords and a vocational training agreement, and to finalize an urban-development loan from the Saudi Arabian Development Bank for China’s Xinjiang province.
The same year, China’s President Hu Jintao paid a return visit. He predicted that bilateral relations would “write a new chapter of friendly cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia in the new century.”
He and King Abdullah signed several agreements for energy exploration and security. King Abdullah adopted a pro-Asian “Look East” trade policy, with more than half of Saudi oil exports going to Asia.
In 2008, when a devastating earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province, Saudi Arabia demonstrated its support by pledging $50 million of cash aid and $10 million of materials.
In 2009 President Hu visited Saudi Arabia for a second time, during which he and King Abdullah discussed international and regional issues of common concern.
The year 2014 saw Saudi Arabia emerging as China’s biggest supplier of crude oil while the value of bilateral trade reached $69.1 billion.
Three years later King Salman visited China to cement Saudi ties with the world’s second-largest economy. The 2017 signed saw deals worth $65 billion being inked.
In 2019, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited China as part of a tour of Asia. He met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials.
As both countries had their own long-term strategic development plans — China with its Belt and Road Initiative and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 — the two leaders expressed their willingness to collaborate on connecting their initiatives.
They signed a cooperation agreement for the enhancement of research and studies in the maritime-transport industry.
The Saudi crown prince also agreed to allocate $10 billion to establish a refinery and petrochemical complex in China.