NEW DELHI: A successful India roadshow organized by the Saudi Tourism Authority has boosted the Kingdom’s appeal in the country, with travel industry leaders forecasting it could soon compete with Dubai as a preferred destination for visitors.
Since the beginning of February, the STA has been taking part in a series of travel and trade events across India, including the One World Travel Market in Mumbai and the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange, which ran from Thursday to Saturday in Noida, in the Indian capital region.
At the SATTE, Asia’s leading platform for the tourism and hospitality industry, the STA established a huge pavilion promoting not only the traditional religious tourism destinations such as Makkah and Madinah, but also the Kingdom’s ancient sites and futuristic projects.
The promotion strategy immediately appealed to Indian visitors.
“The marketing was so very well done — the posters, the flyers and signboards. Everywhere I could see ‘Visit Saudi Arabia.’ They are really doing good,” Sathiswaran Palanivel, a tourism professional from Chennai, told Arab News as he visited the Saudi pavilion.
The message he got from the exhibition was one of expansion, not only of the tourism industry in the Kingdom, but also of the visitor target — from religious tourists visiting the holy Muslim sites of Makkah and Madinah to a general audience seeking to explore historical places and nature.
“They are raising the client audience perfectly. The natural sites and places like AlUla can bring in more customers, all kinds of visitors,” Palanivel said.
“It’s a country for everyone, that’s what I felt, that’s what I’ve seen.”
Diksha Singh, a public relations professional from New Delhi, also observed the change in Saudi Arabia’s tourism strategy and the increasing appeal it has to all Indians, not only Muslims.
“The spiritual image was one large part of Indians traveling to Saudi, but now the preference has also changed. Many corporates or executives like to make their meetings in Saudi and they also like to travel there just for leisure, with their families,” she said.
“Saudi Arabia has been picking up as a great destination to travel for Indians. With the kind of publicity Saudis have been doing lately, many Indians want to visit Saudi Arabia.”
The appeal is also in the newness of many Saudi locations that have only recently opened for travelers. Many more are going to emerge in the coming years. Besides World Heritage sites such as AlUla, huge tourism development works are underway in the mountains of the southwestern Asir region and along the Red Sea coast, where visitors can experience not only luxury but also technological innovations that make tourism sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Abhishek Sharma, a tour operator who traveled over 200 km from Agra to take part in the exhibition, said that he wanted to explore new destinations that could cater to the Indian market.
“We already see that a lot of people have visited Europe, they have visited Thailand, they have visited Sri Lanka. Now they want to explore new places. Those people who have seen the world, they want to see the Saudi also, what type of culture they have,” he said.
“And the Saudis are bringing in some new destinations for them.”
Some Indian industry players, who have been observing the changes Saudi Arabia has undergone under Vision 2030, forecast that in the near future, tourism sites in the Kingdom may become more appealing to Indians than those in Dubai — their current favorite destination in the Middle East.
“The way Saudi Arabia is opening the economy and promoting tourism, it’s pretty clear that it can exceed anyone in the Gulf. Definitely,” said Nihal Mirza, a travel operator from New Delhi.
“They are doing a good job over here. This could be a better decision for tourism, better than Dubai. That’s very possible.”
For Hotelier Vijendra Manocha, Saudi Arabia’s offerings are more diverse and appealing to a wider audience than what tourists may experience in Dubai.
“They are promoting islands where you can explore the local life of Saudi Arabia. You are not getting that in Dubai,” he told Arab News.
“In Dubai you get luxurious life, in Saudi Arabia you get culture also.”