Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world

Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Saudi Tourism Authority)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Saudi Tourism Authority)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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Tourists can experience true Saudi hospitality at the Rijal Almaa village where traditions date back hundreds of years. (Visit Saudi)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Saudi Tourism Authority)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Saudi Heritage Commission)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Saudi Heritage Commission)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Visit Saudi)
Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
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The visitor e-visa grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. (Visit Saudi)
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Updated 23 August 2023
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Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world

Saudi Arabia further opens culture, heritage to the world
  • Kingdom adds 8 new countries to e-visa pool
  • Visitor targets are ‘ambitious,’ says tourism minister

DUBAI: Not even a decade ago, a trip to experience Saudi Arabia’s historic sites and culture would have been unthinkable for most. Over the past few years, thanks largely to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, the Kingdom has opened to tourists, amid a multitude of other transformations on the business and social fronts.

There has been a dramatic shift in tourism numbers for the Gulf nation since it launched its e-visa program in 2019. Since then, Saudi Arabia registered 94 million visits in 2022, a 93 percent increase compared to 2021, resulting in a tourism spend of SR185 billion ($49 billion).

This rapid tourism growth is due to expanding visa initiatives, which now include 57 nations and two special administrative regions, compared to the initial 49 countries at the program’s launch.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Kingdom’s expanding visa initiatives now include 57 nations and two special administrative regions.
  • New countries in the e-visa pool include Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, South Africa, and Uzbekistan.
  • Travel and tourism counts for 4.5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, marking an increase from three percent in 2019.

Abdullah Al-Dakhil, a spokesperson at the Saudi Tourism Authority, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia’s ongoing visa announcements since 2019 have been a significant step toward the Kingdom becoming a must-visit tourism destination, with millions of travelers from right across the world taking advantage of the changes.”

The Kingdom is now taking another step and reimagining its tourism experience. At the beginning of this month, it granted visitor e-visas to travelers from eight countries for leisure, business and religious trips (Umrah only): Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, South Africa, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, said: “By expanding the e-visas to these countries, Saudi Arabia takes another step forward in opening its doors to the world and offering an easier and simplified travel experience for all visitors to the Kingdom.”

The visitor e-visa is valid for an entire year, grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days. Additionally, Visit Saudi offers an online trip planner for visitors to create custom itineraries with ease.

Nusuk is the Kingdom’s first-ever official integrated digital platform, enabling pilgrims to plan their journeys. It is Umrah pilgrims’ one-stop platform for securing visas, booking packages, and obtaining necessary guidance and visitation permits for travel to Makkah and Madinah. Since the digital platform’s launch in September 2022, 1.1 million applications have been received, and over 800,000 visas issued.

“Thanks to the e-visa program, the Stopover Visa and the Nusuk platform which now seamlessly issues Umrah e-visas, it has never been easier or more in-demand to visit Saudi Arabia … (The Kingdom) expects even bigger numbers this year with great Q1 and Q2 results,” Al-Dakhil added.

Most recently, Saudi Arabia announced it would launch the Nusuk platform in Bangladesh for that nation’s pilgrims.

Muslim visitors with all types of visas will now be eligible to perform Umrah. Whether visiting Saudi Arabia as a tourist or for business, Muslim visitors will be able to add Umrah as an itinerary stop.

The new e-visas also have economic benefits for the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is setting the pace globally, aiming to provide some of the biggest opportunities in tourism today.

According to the Saudi Tourism Authority, the Kingdom is the biggest investor in the industry worldwide. With sector investment of $800 billion by 2030 and another $550 billion dollars earmarked for the development of tourist destinations, the Kingdom is creating value for its partners. For example, over the next five years, the number of hotel rooms in Saudi Arabia will nearly double to about 200,000.

And the travelers keep flocking to the Kingdom. According to the ministry, Saudi Arabia is well on track to achieve its goal of 100 million visits by 2030 — with new targets currently being set. And the plan is for the tourism sector to contribute 10 percent of GDP by 2030. Currently travel and tourism counts for 4.5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, marking an increase from 3 percent in 2019.

Moreover, the new e-visa program is also working, according to the authority, to empower Saudis economically. Notable investments in infrastructure and development projects are being made across the country to create employment and empowerment opportunities for citizens.

Al-Khateeb told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia is going through a major transformation, and we welcome and invite people to come and experience Saudi Arabia and see the changes that happened in the last few years.”

“Our target is indeed ambitious,” he continued, adding, “we have achieved a lot so far and the best thing to do is to come and experience life here and see the changes on the ground.”


Saudi Arabia welcomes independent committee’s report on UNRWA’s performance

Saudi Arabia welcomes independent committee’s report on UNRWA’s performance
Updated 24 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia welcomes independent committee’s report on UNRWA’s performance

Saudi Arabia welcomes independent committee’s report on UNRWA’s performance
  • Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs stresses importance of the commitment of donor countries to the organization

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has welcomed an independent committee’s report on the performance of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Kingdom backed the report, which confirmed UNRWA’s main role in supporting the relief, humanitarian and developmental efforts of the Palestinian people.
The ministry further reiterated Saudi Arabia’s emphasis on the importance of the commitment of donor countries to UNRWA to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of all forms of support for refugees in a way that reduces their suffering, especially in light of the Israeli occupation’s continued violations of international law and international humanitarian law.


EU Embassy, Arab News honor makers of Saudi ‘Horizon’ documentary

EU Embassy, Arab News honor makers of Saudi ‘Horizon’ documentary
Updated 24 April 2024
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EU Embassy, Arab News honor makers of Saudi ‘Horizon’ documentary

EU Embassy, Arab News honor makers of Saudi ‘Horizon’ documentary
  • Princess Lamia: ‘Screening is a reminder of our shared responsibility to protect precious ecosystems’
  • Ambassador Farnaud: ‘The Saudi Green Initiative and the European Green Deal have shared goals’
  • Abbas: ‘We are delighted to partner with the EU envoy to showcase Saudi Arabian wildlife in a captivating manner’

RIYADH: The makers of a recently produced, highly acclaimed documentary on Saudi wildlife were honored at a special screening of the film “Horizon” at the residence of the EU ambassador in Riyadh.

The new documentary, produced by the Konoz Initiative, is part of a collaboration between the Saudi Ministry of Media’s Center for Government Communication and the National Center for Wildlife.

It explores the ecological treasures and unique habitats of the Kingdom.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud, secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, was a guest of honor. Princess Lamia, through her work with Alwaleed Philanthropies, has recently announced an initiative called Atlai, an innovative artificial intelligence platform to support global efforts to combat deforestation.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud (L), secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, was a guest of honor at the event. (AN photo/ Huda Bashatah)

The screening was followed by a presentation of an honorary certificate to Abdullah Alahmari, CEO of Konoz initiative, and Yazeed Albader, associate producer of “Horizon.” This was presented by EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Christophe Farnaud, Princess Lamia and Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas.

Farnaud said: “The ‘Horizon’ documentary captures the breathtaking beauty of Saudi Arabia’s diverse natural landscapes and wildlife.

“For centuries, much of the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, held a mysterious attraction for European explorers and travelers.”

The ambassador spoke of the significance of protecting the environment due to basic human needs such as food and water, and dependency on the health of our global environment.

An honorary certificate is presented to Abdullah Alahmari, CEO of Konoz initiative, and Yazeed Albader, associate producer of “Horizon.” (AN photo/ Huda Bashatah) 

“The Saudi Green Initiative and the European Green Deal have shared goals. We all depend on nature for our food, air, water, energy and raw materials. Nature and biodiversity make life possible, provide health, and drive our economy. Nature is also our best ally in tackling the climate crisis,” he said.

“Climate change, economic diversification and transitioning to renewables remain priority areas for both the EU with its policy of European Green Deal as well as for Saudi Arabia with its Vision 2030.”

Princess Lamia gave her thoughts on Saudi Arabia’s fascinating natural wonders that are featured in the film.

“Through ‘Horizon’ we are transported to the breathtaking beauty and rich biodiversity of Saudi Arabia. This documentary promises to immerse us in the heart of the Kingdom’s diverse wildlife and scenery,” she said.

The makers of a documentary on Saudi wildlife were honored at a special screening of the film “Horizon” at the residence of the EU ambassador in Riyadh. (AN photo/ Huda Bashatah)

“Tonight’s screening is not only a celebration of Saudi Arabia’s rich natural heritage but also a call to action — a reminder of our shared responsibility to protect and conserve the precious ecosystems that define our world.

“In a time where our forests and natural ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate, Atlai, created by Alwaleed Philanthropies, is a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration. It’s about igniting a passion for preservation, a fervor for conservation, and a commitment to safeguarding our planet for generations to come.”

Abbas expressed appreciation for the Saudi team behind the “Horizon” documentary, saying: “We are delighted to have partnered with the EU delegation to host a special screening of this remarkable documentary which showcases Saudi Arabian wildlife in a truly captivating manner.”

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas. (AN photo/ Huda Bashatah)

He added: “As part of Arab News Green and Blue initiative, which focuses on environment and sustainability, we are also proud to present the Saudi team behind the ‘Horizon’ documentary with a certificate of appreciation, and thank them for their contribution in preserving and showcasing the wonders our beloved Kingdom has to offer.”

Arab News has recently launched its Green And Blue, an initiative which discusses environmental subjects regarding climate change, desertification, wildlife preservation, sustainability, and green energy, with a close emphasis on the environment in Saudi Arabia.

The CEO of Konoz initiative expressed how thrilled he was to attend the screening of the movie.

“This documentary sheds light on the beauty of Saudi Arabia, its versatile terrain and highlights the wildlife we are blessed to have in the Kingdom,” Said Alahmari.

The makers of a documentary on Saudi wildlife were honored at a special screening of the film “Horizon” at the residence of the EU ambassador in Riyadh. (AN photo/ Huda Bashatah)

He expressed his appreciation to the Minister of Media Salman bin Yousef Al-Dossary for his constant support in ensuring that the movie highlights the Kingdom and reaches a broader audience.

The associate producer of the work explained how the documentary took more than 260 days of shooting and more than 2,000 hours of recording because it covered all the regions.

“If you want to shoot some of the animals, you may not get luck on the spot. So, you have to do some scouting, you have to arrive a couple of days before, stay for weeks to spot a nice shot, or to get that perfect skyline with the clouds, sunset or sunrise,” said Albader.

“I was honored to be here, the screening was great. It is a pleasure to be here with the ambassadors, and to see how a lot of people care about nature and wildlife. This is just the beginning of many events to come.”

“Horizon” is now available on Netflix internationally.


Inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum focuses on innovative ways to enhance pilgrim experience

Inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum focuses on innovative ways to enhance pilgrim experience
Updated 24 April 2024
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Inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum focuses on innovative ways to enhance pilgrim experience

Inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum focuses on innovative ways to enhance pilgrim experience
  • The 3-day event, which concluded on Wednesday, included 6 discussion sessions and 24 workshops led by 29 experts

JEDDAH: The inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum concluded on Wednesday at the King Salman International Convention Center in Madinah. During the three-day event, participants discussed ways to foster collaborations, enhance the pilgrimage experience and improve the services provided for pilgrims.

The agenda for the forum, organized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in partnership with the Pilgrim Experience Program, included six discussion sessions and 24 workshops led by 29 experts and specialists.

The topics they covered included services for pilgrims and other visitors, advancements in air travel services for pilgrims, financial systems in the Umrah and ziyarah sectors, and development opportunities in housing and hospitality services.

Other discussions focused on services at ports, the automation of operations, ways to improve the efficiency of workers, and the important role of services provided for visitors at holy sites and throughout their journeys in Makkah and Madinah.

One of the key topics was air travel services, with discussions about the growth in flight numbers and the need to provide a comprehensive range of services throughout pilgrims’ journeys beyond those purely focusing on their rituals. For example, participants highlighted plans for the expansion of Madinah Airport to better accommodate the increasing numbers of pilgrims and other visitors arriving there.

Another discussion examined financial services in the Umrah and ziyarah sector, and explored the options for international money transfers, ways to develop financial procedures, and innovative digital solutions for processing transactions.

Other topics included development opportunities in housing and hospitality services, during which speakers emphasized the importance of transparency and the need for full compliance by service providers with the terms of their contracts.

The final day of the event featured two panel discussions, one about the role of technology in finding solutions to the challenges in guest services, and the other on ways to carefully develop historical sites to enrich the historical and spiritual experiences for visitors to Makkah and Madinah.


Who’s Who: Swaied Al-Zahrani, CEO of Saudi Credit Bureau

Who’s Who: Swaied Al-Zahrani, CEO of Saudi Credit Bureau
Updated 24 April 2024
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Who’s Who: Swaied Al-Zahrani, CEO of Saudi Credit Bureau

Who’s Who: Swaied Al-Zahrani, CEO of Saudi Credit Bureau

Swaied Al-Zahrani has been the CEO of the Saudi Credit Bureau, also known as SIMAH, since March 2018.

As CEO, Al-Zahrani has guided SIMAH’s short and long-term strategies, ensuring a competitive landscape within the market.

He led major restructuring to enable a future-proof operating model and enhance customer experience. He is focused on improving the governance, risk management, and data management framework and practices.

Al-Zahrani is also a board member of Qarar, a decision analytics company specializing in tailored customer management and lending process automation solutions based in Riyadh, and a board member at Tassnief, the first local credit rating agency licensed by the Capital Market Authority.

He has nearly two decades of experience in the financial sector and is known for his ability to maximize shareholder value through effective strategies, committed to driving innovation and excellence in the financial industry.

Prior to his current role, he worked as chief operations officer at the Social Development Bank in Riyadh from January 2016 to March 2018. He led the bank’s transformation program, focusing on building a new strategy, organizational restructuring, automation and digitalization, customer experience, and risk controls while promoting a savings culture aligned with national strategies.

Al-Zahrani worked for nine years at Al-Rajhi Bank in various domains including IT, business, and banking operations groups, where he participated in major transformation programs.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.


Saudi embassy in Cairo receives Kingdom’s first female astronaut

Saudi embassy in Cairo receives Kingdom’s first female astronaut
Updated 24 April 2024
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Saudi embassy in Cairo receives Kingdom’s first female astronaut

Saudi embassy in Cairo receives Kingdom’s first female astronaut

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Egypt Osama Nugali on Wednesday received Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi, who is currently visiting Egypt, at the embassy in Cairo.

Nugali congratulated Barnawi, the first Saudi female astronaut, on her achievement which affirmed the progress Saudi Arabia is witnessing in all fields, including the space sector and its technologies, in light of its ambitious Vision 2030.

Barnawi, who is a scientist specializing in cancer stem-cell research, traveled into space as part of the Axiom Mission 2 to the International Space Station last year.