NEW DELHI: The Saudi Tourism Authority has signed a partnership agreement with India’s most popular cricket league to tap into a strong sports fanbase in both countries and promote the Kingdom as a leading destination for Indian visitors.
In the past two years, India has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s key tourism source market and is expected to become the largest one by 2030, as the STA’s efforts are concentrated on building relations with Indian industry stakeholders.
The cricket partnership, inked between the authority and the Indian Premier League on Tuesday evening aims at increasing the Kingdom’s appeal in the south Asian nation. The STA will be an official sponsor of the IPL — a men’s Twenty20 franchise and the world’s most-watched cricket league.
“We are delighted to announce our partnership with IPL, because we know how important cricket is to our visitors from South Asia,” Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, the STA’s chief for Asia Pacific, said in a statement.
“Through our partnership with the IPL, we aim to increase Saudi Arabia’s presence and appeal in the Indian and south Asian markets. We are excited to show prospective south Asian visitors why they should consider Saudi not only as their next holiday destination, but also as a viable sports destination as we play host to prominent sports and entertainment events such as Formula One, WWE, and the Spanish Super Cup.”
The partnership follows the STA’s other recent promotion programs in India, including a successful tourism roadshow and participation in a series of travel and trade events across the country earlier this month, including the One World Travel Market in Mumbai and the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange — Asia’s leading platform for the tourism and hospitality industry.
The promotion strategy and the cricket partnership found immediate appeal in both the sports and tourism industry.
“The IPL partnership is a powerful channel to engage with its vast audience and support the Saudi Tourism Authority’s objective of creating brand awareness in India as well as among the fans from the entire cricketing world,” Rajeev Shukla, vice president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said during the announcement of the IPL deal.
“We hope that through this partnership, we inspire and grow the cricket fanbase in Saudi and in collaboration with STA, create exciting opportunities for them to engage with the game.”
Jay Shah, the board’s secretary, said he believed the partnership would help position Saudi Arabia as the leading tourism and sports destination.
“For us, it’s an exciting prospect that the Saudi Tourism Authority has immense faith in the power of the IPL to bring countries together.
“This partnership will create newer opportunities for cricket in Saudi and strengthen the sport in the region,” he added.
Cricket matches have been organized in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s, when the game was introduced by expatriates from Pakistan and India. As years passed, the sport became more structured and local clubs began to form.
The Kingdom became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2003 and in 2016 was promoted to associate membership.
But the game’s real boom began only recently, with the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation in 2020, which has since lined up a series of programs to promote the sport at home and prepare national teams to compete with the world’s best in the future.
The idea to involve cricket in the country’s promotion was expected to boost Saudi Indian ties.
“It is great news for Saudi Arabia and India,” Elodie Azar, deputy general manager of the Saudi travel operator Kurban Tours, told Arab News.
“I feel that sport is a way to engage the young generation. This will help to promote Saudi as a leisure and tourism destination. This will also help to connect with many cricket fans around the world and to lead Saudi to be a destination for sports fans also not only tourism or business.”
In addition, it was expected to help forge people-to-people relations that underpinned economic and political partnerships.
“Building people-to-people ties is essential for India and Saudi Arabia,” Mohammed Soliman, strategic technologies director at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said.
“It is part of the broader trend of economic and political integration in West Asia.”
Muddassir Quamar, Middle East expert and fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, described the cricket partnership as a “defining moment” in Saudi Indian relations.
“There is a strong push in the Kingdom for bringing mega sporting and recreational events inside Saudi Arabia and the partnership can be one step toward that,” he told Arab News.
“The appetite for investments in sports in the Kingdom is enormous, and potential for partnership with Indian entities is immense.”