Sustainability, youth empowerment, new destinations top agenda on first day of World Tourism Day conference in Riyadh

Sustainability, youth empowerment, new destinations top agenda on first day of World Tourism Day conference in Riyadh
Ministers, airline executives, and hospitality industry officials participated in proceedings on the first day of the World Tourism Day 2023 conference in Riyadh. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 28 September 2023
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Sustainability, youth empowerment, new destinations top agenda on first day of World Tourism Day conference in Riyadh

Sustainability, youth empowerment, new destinations top agenda on first day of World Tourism Day conference in Riyadh
  • Under the theme of “people, planet and prosperity,” the opening day focused on responsible tourism and job creation 
  • Some 500 government officials, industry leaders, press and UN delegates from 120 countries are attending the event

RIYADH: The capital of Saudi Arabia played host to leaders, experts, and investors from across the global tourism industry on Wednesday, the opening day of a conference officially marking World Tourism Day, which was established by the UN World Tourism Organization in 1980 and is celebrated on Sept 27 each year.

The special event, which aims to acknowledge the power of tourism in bringing diverse cultures closer together, attracted more than 500 government officials, industry leaders, UN delegates, and foreign and regional journalists from 120 countries.

The first day of the two-day event included panels, networking sessions and announcements focusing on the main themes of sustainability, environmental impacts, education and job creation.

It comes at an exciting moment for tourism in Saudi Arabia as new destinations spring up across the Kingdom thanks to public- and private-sector investment in the sector and the introduction in September 2019 of the country’s flexible e-visa system for visitors.

“In less than five years, the Kingdom has gone from an unknown to a must-see destination, and I am confident countries everywhere are inspired by this example and will follow it themselves,” Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the UNWTO, told delegates during the opening ceremony.

“This is a country that always looks forward, and in big ways. The Kingdom is also a top investor in tourism. Our latest tourist investment report, with the Financial Times, showed that Saudi Arabia is now the second-biggest place for foreign direct-investment projects in all the Middle East and Africa. I’m proud to say we count on the support of Saudi Arabia.”




The first day of the two-day event included panels, networking sessions and announcements focusing on the main themes of sustainability, environmental impacts, education and job creation. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The Kingdom is the chair of the UNWTO Executive Council this year, and hosts its Middle East headquarters. In June last year, Saudi Arabia hosted the 116th session of the council, one of the outcomes of which was the Jeddah Call to Action, which acknowledged the urgent need for greater and better governance of the tourism sector, including targeted investments and a focus on advancing sustainability, building resilience, and enhancing training and education.

Reflecting the conference’s core themes of “people, planet and prosperity,” the first day’s events focused on the themes of sustainability, combating climate change through responsible tourism and travel, bridging cultures, and empowering youth.

The main sessions included “The Power of Tourism: Building Bridges,” which featured an expert panel with Julia Simpson, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Nika Gilauri, CEO of Reformatics, Niall Gibbons, head of tourism at NEOM, Leo Wang, CEO of the Swiss Education Group, and Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Turkiye’s minister of culture and tourism.

“Travel and tourism is an incredibly important sector globally,” Simpson told Arab News. “It employs one in 10 people on the planet, and of every $10 that are made on the planet, one (dollar) comes from travel and tourism.

“It is really significant that Saudi Arabia has been hosting the UN World Tourism Day here in Riyadh. The reason it is significant is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has decided to invest $800 billion in the sector to pivot its economy.”




Julia Simpson, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, told Arab News that the travel and tourism sector employs one in 10 people on the planet. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

In his opening remarks on Wednesday, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism, highlighted the industry’s rapid transformation in recent decades.

“In 1970, international tourism and travel accounted for less than 3 percent of the global GDP (gross domestic product), and today it is strongly rebounding from the pandemic, rapidly approaching 10 percent,” he said.

“As a sector, the number of travelers has risen from 180 million in the early 1970s to nearly 1.5 billion travelers in 2019, representing an increase of almost 700 percent.”

While the Saudi tourism industry, like those of other nations, suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has rapidly bounced back thanks to multi-billion-dollar investments that are expected to create a million jobs over the next 10 years and double the number of foreign visitors by 2032.

“Saudi Arabia is a great oil producer and one of the critical powers at the axis of the world,” said Simpson. “But the Saudis have also decided, as a relatively young country, that they want to open up to visitors from around the world and they are putting their money where their mouth is and have some very interesting projects on the rise.”

Tourism is responsible for about 8 percent of global carbon emissions, in particular as a result of flights and other modes of transport, and high energy consumption by the hospitality industry.




Saudi Arabia is the chair of the UNWTO Executive Council this year, and hosts its Middle East headquarters. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Mindful of the need to reduce emissions and promote environmentally sustainable practices, Saudi Arabia is doing its bit to protect natural habitats and aid biodiversity. In the Kingdom’s ancient desert region of AlUla, for example, authorities are planting native trees, protecting endangered species, and even reintroducing big cats such as the Arabian leopard.

On the Red Sea coast, meanwhile, the Kingdom is building a scientific center to study the health of the world’s coral reefs.

“The environment is critically important to travel and tourism for two reasons,” Simpson told Arab News.

“Firstly, people will not want to travel the world if there isn’t a world of beautiful things and creatures to see. It is in our best interests to protect and be guardians of the natural biodiversity around us.

“Secondly, we need to understand our impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions on travel and tourism.”

Research is underway in the Kingdom to develop lighter planes and identify the best operational routes to prioritize the efficient use of fuel, Simpson added.




In June last year, Saudi Arabia hosted the 116th session of the council, one of the outcomes of which was the Jeddah Call to Action, which acknowledged the urgent need for greater and better governance of the tourism sector. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Peter Bellew, chief operating officer of the recently established Riyadh Air, told Arab News how, as a brand new airline, it is able to start out with the most sustainable practices, including their investment in the innovative Boeing 787 aircraft.

“We don’t have a legacy to rely on, so we can really do everything fresh from the ground up,” he said. “The Boeing 787 is the most fuel-efficient aircraft ever created. It has got unbelievable carbon fiber technologies and very efficient engines.

“Also, the way we’ve trained our crew and the way we will fly the aircraft will use every available possible method for saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions onboard the aircraft.

“We’ll be focused on recycling. And at the airports where we operate we’ll be trying to optimize the use of electronic ground equipment. We will also be trialing hydrogen-powered ground equipment as well.”




Peter Bellew, COO of Riyadh Air, told Arab News how, as a brand new airline, it is able to start out with the most sustainable practices, including their investment in the innovative Boeing 787 aircraft. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Another session during the conference on Wednesday, titled “Investing in Our Destinations: The Potential of the Undiscovered,” highlighted the variety of new destinations across the Kingdom and around the world.

The speakers included Gines Martinez Cerdan, CEO of Jumbo Tours Group, part of Alpitour World, Gregory Djerejian, the group head of investments and legal at Red Sea Global, Roula Jouny, CEO of Tourism 365, Rosa Ana Morillo Rodriguez, Spain’s minister of industry, trade and tourism, and Doan Van Viet, Vietnam’s deputy minister of culture, sports and tourism.

Djerejian said the Kingdom’s western coastline is developing rapidly, with a range of new hotels and resorts due to begin opening as early as November this year.

“The first hotel we will be opening is the Six Senses, nestled in the plateau of the dunes with a prominent spa component,” he told Arab News.

“We are taking bookings from Nov. 1, and on the heels of that we have the St. Regis and Nujuma, a Ritz Carlton Reserve on the Ummahat Islands.”

In 2024, Red Sea Global will also open Desert Rock, a resort within the dramatic desert landscapes of the Red Sea coast, designed by Oppenheim Architecture.




Gregory Djerejian, the group head of investments and legal at Red Sea Global, said Red Sea Global is actively training young Saudis to work in the sector through a variety of initiatives and partnerships with a number of institutes.(AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Another highlight of the conference’s opening day was a session on the importance of education in the hospitality industry and the empowerment of Saudi youth.

Djerejian said Red Sea Global is actively training young Saudis to work in the sector through a variety of initiatives and partnerships with a number of institutes.

“We view that as an important part of our mandate because this is their country, this is their future,” he said.

Al-Khateeb, the minister of tourism, announced the inauguration of the Riyadh School for Tourism and Hospitality. It is, he said, “a gift from Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Authorities in the Kingdom are prioritizing job creation for young people below the age of 34, who make up the majority of the nation’s population. The tourism industry will account for many of those new positions.

“There has been a vast change in the sector over the last few years,” Guenter Gebhard, regional vice president and general manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, told Arab News.

“I’ve been in Saudi since 2018 and we have witnessed dramatic changes in the sector and in the employment of Saudi nationals as well. Whereas, I think, four or five years ago hospitality and tourism were still seen as not a prominent sector to work in, it has developed more and has become an aspirational career track for many young Saudis.

“We’re looking into development programs within our company as well, such as building an academy to educate and bring Saudis more into the tourism sector and there’s a strong demand for it. We already have eight projects in the pipeline.”




Guenter Gebhard, regional vice president and general manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, said there are development programs within their company to educate and bring Saudis more into the tourism sector. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The long-term ambition is to create senior leadership roles in the industry for young people from the Kingdom eventually to fill.

“We are trying to find ways to nurture that drive for positive engagement to bring educated individuals into the industry and become the future leaders,” said Gebhard.

“I’m looking forward to appointing the Saudi general manager (of the Four Seasons) in the next couple of years.”

 


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
Updated 22 February 2024
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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.