‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration

‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration
A picture taken on February 3, 2023 shows a man walking around Ancient Nabataean carved tombs at the archaeological site of al-Hijr (Hegra), near the northwestern Saudi city of al-Ula. (AFP/File)
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Updated 27 September 2023
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‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration

‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration
  • More than 500 government officials and industry leaders from 120 countries are in Riyadh from September 27 to 28
  • Saudi Arabia is the chair of the UNWTO Executive Council for 2023 and host of its Middle East headquarters

RIYADH: Since it fully opened its borders to visitors, launched a flexible e-visa system, and began developing a wide range of luxury, heritage and adventure-holiday attractions, Saudi Arabia has reinvented itself in just a few short years into a major emerging tourism market.

The Kingdom is therefore seen by many as the natural choice to host a number of events to mark World Tourism Day 2023, an international day (Sept. 27) that was established by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to celebrate the power of the sector to help bridge cultures.

This year’s meetings and discussions, which will be hosted by Riyadh on Sept. 27 and 28, will address the challenges and opportunities for the industry, under the organization’s core themes of “people, planet and prosperity.”

Saudi Arabia is chairing the organization’s executive council this year, and Riyadh is home to its first regional office in the Middle East, which positions the Kingdom as an important ambassador for tourism in the region.

More than 500 government officials will join experts and industry leaders from 120 countries at the events, which will examine the ways in which the sector is recovering from the economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic, and responding to calls for greater environmental and social sustainability.

“We have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for the global tourism sector, centered on sustainable development, job creation and economic resilience,” said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism.

“Tourism — as a catalyst for change — fosters mutual understanding, builds bridges, and safeguards cultural heritage and environmental conservation, contributing to a more harmonious world.

“World Tourism Day 2023 is an important platform for the world to celebrate the sector’s successes and explore solutions to its challenges. Saudi Arabia is honored to host this esteemed occasion and we look forward to welcoming tourism leaders from the public and private sectors to Riyadh.”

According to organizers, this year’s event is set to be the biggest and most impactful World Tourism Day in the 43-year history of the event.

In addition to Al-Khateeb, other speakers will include UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa bint Mohammed, Spain’s Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Tourism Rosa Ana Morillo Rodriguez, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism Patricia de Lille, Croatia’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac, and Turkiye’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Ersoy.

The list of speakers also includes Pansy Ho, the secretary-general of the Global Tourism Economy Forum, and the CEOs of a number of companies and organizations, including Ibrahim Koshy of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC Cruises, Greg Webb of Travelport, Ritesh Agarwal of OYO, Julia Simpson of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Matthew Upchurch of Virtuoso.

“This World Tourism Day, we focus on the vital need to invest in building a more sustainable sector for people, planet and prosperity,” said Pololikashvili.

“The day also makes clear why UNWTO underscores the need for investment in education and for greater innovation as the foundations for long-term growth and transformation. This year’s official celebration in Saudi Arabia reflects how tourism is being embraced to diversify economies and generate opportunities for all.”

The rapidly growing Saudi tourism industry is driven by the government’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda. The sector is expected to account for 10 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2030, creating 1.6 million jobs.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of economic growth worldwide and is forecast to contribute $9.5 trillion to global GDP this year alone, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

This is in line with UNWTO forecasts that tourism is on track to recover to between 80 and 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, and to exceed 2019 levels in 2024.

This is very good news for national economies in both traditional and emerging tourism markets, as the sector not only provides a wealth of employment and business opportunities, it also plays an important soft-power role in promoting cross-cultural understanding.

“Tourism is a powerful force for progress and mutual understanding,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general. “But to deliver its full benefits, this force must be protected and nurtured.

“On this World Tourism Day, we recognize the vital need for green investments to build a tourism sector that delivers for people and planet. So let us all do more to harness the full potential of sustainable tourism. Because investing in sustainable tourism is investing in a better future for all.”

The two-day event in Riyadh will focus on three subthemes: mutual understanding, economic sustainability and social prosperity.

Day one, during which delegates will explore “Tourism and Green Investments,” will include panels on the power of tourism in building bridges, investing in human capabilities, the potential of less-visited destinations, the challenges in achieving a sustainable future and the potential solutions, bridging the innovation gap, and powering entrepreneurship.

In the evening, Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah, north of Riyadh, will host a gala dinner in celebration of World Tourism Day.

The second day will include the “Tourism Leaders Forum,” under the theme “Tourism for People, Prosperity and Intercultural Dialogue,” and a session focusing on the public-sector that will explore options for a sustainable and green future for the industry.

In addition, a private-sector session will look at “seamless end-to-end travel,” with a view to developing the infrastructure, legislation and services needed for mass-transit networks worldwide that promote ease and comfort of travel.

There will also be a handover session during which Saudi Arabia will pass the baton to next year’s host nation, Georgia.

The wider aim of the event, organizers say, is to foster global collaborations, explore opportunities, strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector, and work toward an investment-led and sustainably focused future for the industry.

Delegates will have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to tourism, consider success stories and best practices that integrate tourism with green investment, and learn how the sector can be promoted as a means of bridging cultures.

Investment in tourism and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has grown rapidly since the country opened its borders more widely to foreign tourists in 2019 and introduced its e-visa system.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism was established in 2020 to bring the sector to the forefront of the Vision 2030 agenda, with the aim of creating 1 million jobs for citizens, and enabling and accelerating sustainable growth through future-focused policies.

Authorities in the Kingdom say that, guided by data, they are pursuing investments and talent-development programs to attract industry-leading partners. They have set a target of welcoming 100 million foreign visitors by 2030 and boosting the contribution of the sector to GDP from 3 percent to 10 percent during that time.

Tourism projects are under development or construction in several parts of the country, including a chain of luxury resorts along the country’s western coast known as the Red Sea project, and the island of Umluj, which is known as “the Maldives of Saudi Arabia” thanks to its crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches.

Other areas being targeted include the mountainous Asir region, a prime location for outdoor sports and adventure activities, and the ancient desert region of AlUla, site of many archaeological treasures including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra and the “Journey Through Time” master plan, a living, breathing museum and cultural-heritage hub.

On Monday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the masterplan to develop a new project in Soudah to present a new face of luxury mountain tourism. Soudah Peaks will see a luxury mountain tourism destination set 3,015 meters being created above sea level on Saudi Arabia’s highest peak.

The project will be executed by Soudah Development, a company owned by Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, that is driving the development of Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa in Asir.

The growing investment in tourism and the resulting increase in visitors is good news for key players in the Saudi hospitality industry, who have been working to expand their offerings to meet booming demand for accommodation, dining, activities and relaxation.

“The Kingdom’s identity as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, its leading investment capabilities, and its strategic geographical position all play a significant role in supporting Saudi Arabia on its journey to become a global tourism destination,” Richard Johnson, the general manager of Al-Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“World Tourism Day, held in Riyadh, will offer a prime opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s progress to this end, where travel and tourism industry leaders from around the world will gather and witness how the nation proactively connects Saudis with the world, builds bridges between cultures, nurtures hospitality talent, and creates investment opportunities for the international community.”


Founding Day is a day for Saudis to celebrate their roots, says expert on Diriyah’s heritage and culture

Founding Day is a day for Saudis to celebrate their roots, says expert on Diriyah’s heritage and culture
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Founding Day is a day for Saudis to celebrate their roots, says expert on Diriyah’s heritage and culture

Founding Day is a day for Saudis to celebrate their roots, says expert on Diriyah’s heritage and culture
  • ‘We celebrate the long journey of a great nation,’ says Zean Alshirian, senior officer for cultural and historical validation at Diriyah Gate Development Authority
  • Founding Day, on Feb. 22, marks the establishment of the First Saudi State in 1727, while National Day, on Sept. 23, marks the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932

RIYADH: Saudis across the Kingdom will celebrate their lineage, heritage and national identity on Feb. 22 at events marking the third annual Founding Day, which commemorates the establishment of the First Saudi State by Imam Mohammed bin Saud almost 300 years ago.

“We’re celebrating rich and deep history … as Saudis, we celebrate the long journey of a great nation,” Zean Alshirian, senior officer for cultural and historical validation at Diriyah Gate Development Authority, told Arab News.

Founding Day, which was established as a national holiday by royal decree in 2022, is a celebration of Saudi identity, she said, a day that connects the nation’s people to their roots and heritage. As such, it honors the first step on a path that led to the modern-day Kingdom, she added.

The First Saudi State, or the Emirate of Diriyah, was founded in 1727 by Imam Mohammed. Known for his bravery, leadership skills and generosity, he brought security and stability to Diriyah and under his leadership it flourished, becoming a hub for culture, commerce and education.

“The first treasury of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was here in Diriyah, in At-Turaif, (which is now) a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” said Alshirian. “This treasury was built to allocate (resources to meet) the needs of the people here. And that speaks to the peak of where the First Saudi State actually reached.”

The First Saudi State, its development, which was advanced for the time, and its cultural, economic and humanitarian initiatives helped to shape embryonic beginnings of what would become the modern Kingdom we know today. Founding Day therefore gives Saudis a chance to remember the origins of their nation, its people and their traditions, and to celebrate this connection between past and present.

“We, as the people of the Kingdom, are ever so connected to our predecessors, we’re ever so connected to our ancestry,” Alshirian said. “So beginning to understand that our traditions, our cultures, date back to 300, 400 years ago, we can then understand how rich they are.”

To fully understand the groundbreaking nature of Imam Mohammed’s historic achievements, one must be aware of the broader history of the Arabian Peninsula, Alshirian said. Prior to the founding of the First Saudi State, city-states were common but nation-states were not.

“When he (Imam Mohammed) founded the First Saudi State … this was a huge step forward. This was a momentous moment in history, something that signifies his character,” Alshirian said.

He founded the state at the heart of of the Arabian peninsula, in Al-Yamamah region, and by doing so enhanced local security, unity, education and culture, she added.

“So this huge step forward is something visionary from Imam Mohammed bin Saud,” Alshirian said.

The cultural history of the First Saudi State is revealed by the manuscripts of the time.

“We can understand it through their handwriting and the colors that they use. They were connected to their environment,” Alshirian said.

Some people might be confused about the difference between Saudi Arabia’s National Day and its Founding Day, which mark two pivotal, but distinct, events in the history of the Kingdom.

“National Day is Sept. 23, when we celebrate the unification of the (modern day) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Alshirian said.

“But when we talk about Founding Day, we are talking about the founding of the First Saudi State about 300 years ago.”

If we consider the timeline of the evolution of the nation, the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 was in a sense the final step on the path, while the founding of the First Saudi State in 1727 was the start.

“When we understand that, we understand the domino effect, the butterfly effect of how this great journey started. So we’re celebrating the beginning of a journey, in a sense,” Alshirian said.

“But the after is as important as the first, and vice versa.”

Alshirian added that it is her hope that Founding Day helps the Saudi people to better understand and celebrate their national roots and history.


KSrelief, UN officials meet to discuss aid cooperation

KSrelief, UN officials meet to discuss aid cooperation
Updated 22 February 2024
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KSrelief, UN officials meet to discuss aid cooperation

KSrelief, UN officials meet to discuss aid cooperation

RIYADH: Officials from Saudi Arabia’s aid agency and the UN met in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss ways to improve aid delivery across the world.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, royal court advisor and supervisor-general of KSrelief, met with Mohamed El-Zarkani, the UN’s resident coordinator in Saudi Arabia.

El-Zarkani praised Saudi Arabia for assisting the UN’s various humanitarian and aid agencies.


KSrelief distributes 950 food parcels to displaced people in Khartoum

KSrelief distributes 950 food parcels to displaced people in Khartoum
The assistance forms part of the humanitarian and relief projects it provides in Sudan. (SPA)
Updated 22 February 2024
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KSrelief distributes 950 food parcels to displaced people in Khartoum

KSrelief distributes 950 food parcels to displaced people in Khartoum

KHARTOUM STATE: Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief distributed 950 food parcels in Sudan’s Khartoum State, benefiting 7,566 displaced people as part of the project to support food security in the country.
The assistance forms part of the humanitarian and relief projects Saudi Arabia provides through its humanitarian arm in Sudan to alleviate the suffering of people displaced by the war.


KSrelief to provide equipment to Sudan children’s hospitals

KSrelief to provide equipment to Sudan children’s hospitals
The agreement aims to reduce mortality rates. (SPA)
Updated 22 February 2024
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KSrelief to provide equipment to Sudan children’s hospitals

KSrelief to provide equipment to Sudan children’s hospitals

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aid agency KSrelief signed a cooperation agreement on Wednesday with the Patients Helping Fund Organization in Sudan to provide essential medical equipment to the country’s children’s hospitals.

Ahmed Al-Baiz, KSrelief’s assistant supervisor-general of operations and programs, and Kamal Yaqoub Mohamed, director-general of the fund, signed the agreement in Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The aim is to reduce mortality rates in the Kassala and El-Obeid hospitals.

The new equipment will directly benefit 100,000 individuals and another 100,000 indirect beneficiaries.

The agreement is part of the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts, led by KSrelief, to support Sudan’s health sector.


Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers discuss bilateral ties

Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers discuss bilateral ties
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers discuss bilateral ties

Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers discuss bilateral ties

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, held talks on Wednesday on the sidelines of a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro.

They discussed the relationship between their countries and ways in which it might be enhanced in various fields, the Saudi Press Agency reported. They also reviewed the latest regional and international developments, particularly those relating to Israel’s war on Gaza.

The Saudi ambassador to Brazil, Faisal Ghulam, and the assistant director general of the foreign minister’s office, Walid Al-Smail, were also present at the meeting.