RIYADH: Environmental sustainability can only be delivered if a country has a strong and stable economy, stated the Saudi minister of investment during a panel discussion at the UN World Tourism Day 2023 event in Riyadh.
Khalid Al-Falih stressed that his role as minister entails ensuring financial agreements are closely connected to environmentally friendly practices.
This means investments made “in the fuel of the future” in smart cities and mobility are sustainable, he said, adding that they should “give the tourists a sense of comfort that they are undertaking a journey, a vacation, a holiday and along the way they are benefiting the environment and not harming it.”
He stated that the tourism sector is undergoing a significant definition and development process in the Kingdom, emphasizing that this is relevant to the region and the broader Middle East.
“With the leadership of (UN World Tourism Organization) Secretary General Zurab (Pololikashvili), Saudi Arabia is helping define the future of tourism in a sustainable way,” Al-Falih noted.
He added: “It is important that tourism becomes counter and actually helps through the connectivity that we create between institutions, technologies and people.”
These connections are expected to be crucial in promoting eco-friendly practices and outcomes.
During a roundtable, Pololikashvili discussed the dynamic changes in the Kingdom’s investments, infrastructures, and regulations, opening new opportunities, especially in hosting international events.
“The country was totally closed to international travelers, and now here you see people coming from Argentina, Chile, Japan, and from all over the world. Almost 20 African ministers are here,” Pololikashvili said.
He continued: “Nobody could imagine (this) five years ago. So, these are the steps. There’s a longer vision. It’s not only the year 2030. Many more things will happen here.”
Pololikashvili emphasized that the government and the minister of tourism are striving to increase the number of international visitors, making it their top priority.
Citing data from the International Air Transport Association, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, stated that the world had 4.5 billion passengers before the pandemic.
“This year, we are going to achieve 94 percent of that, and the reality is going to double,” Manzo continued.
However, she added: “For that, you need to have the technology, and for that you need to have the cooperation of the government and of course the private sector.”
Furthermore, in alignment with Vision 2030 objectives, the nation is undergoing a remarkable transformation towards openness, diversity, and sustainability, stated Basmah Al-Mayman, Middle East regional director at the UNWTO, in an interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the event.
Al-Mayman noted that this goal serves as a model of inspiration to the world.
However, she told Arab News: “One main challenge that was facing the tourism sector in the Kingdom was the women working in the sector in our conservative society.”
Al-Mayman added: “Nowadays, the situation has changed a lot as women have become more visible in the workforce and community, contributing more to the economy and development of the Kingdom. This is creating an outstanding shift in attitudes and behavior that will appeal on an international stage.”
Moreover, the UN official underscored the importance of establishing a robust institutional framework for the tourism sector through a close collaboration between the public and private sectors.
This involves creating regulations that define the roles and responsibilities of the private sector within the tourism industry and fostering an environment that encourages investment in travel.
“In fact, the future of tourism is dependent on building strong partnerships with the private sector. It is now more important than ever to enable and empower the private sector,” she explained.
Al-Mayman went on to say: “This new framework for collaboration with the private sector and relevant government entities will improve the quality of services in the tourism sector and promote Saudi Arabia as one of the top five global destinations.”
The two-day event concluded Thursday as CEOs and leaders delivered keynote comments, while panel discussions focused on three UNWTO essential themes: people, planet, and prosperity.
Saudi Arabia will hand over the chair to Georgia, who will host the event next year.