Saudi Arabia spearheads regional, global tourism revolution

A camel in the sand desert can be seen at sunset in Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
A camel in the sand desert can be seen at sunset in Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2023
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Saudi Arabia spearheads regional, global tourism revolution

A camel in the sand desert can be seen at sunset in Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
  • Last year, the Kingdom welcomed 18 million tourists, compared to 14.8 million traveling to the UAE
  • These figures might be at first startling and incredible to imagine for a country that just a few years ago was nearly impossible to visit

RIYADH: According to the World Tourism Organization, Saudi Arabia was the most visited country by tourists in the Arab world in 2022.

Last year, the Kingdom welcomed 18 million tourists, compared to 14.8 million traveling to the UAE. These figures might be at first startling and incredible to imagine for a country that just a few years ago was nearly impossible to visit. The Gulf nation’s rapid social and economic transformations have spearheaded its tourism industry, now quickly becoming a much sought-after destination worldwide.

Saudi Arabia is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the multitude of wide-ranging heritage sites, new hotels and museums as well as natural landscapes throughout the country.

During a session at the recently concluded Future Investment Initiative, it was noted that the Kingdom is contributing 6.4 percent to the annual gross domestic product while emitting only 3.3 percent of global greenhouse gases, according to new research published in “The Environmental Impact of Global Tourism.”

In a panel titled “What Is the Vision for High-Growth Industry?” at the forum, Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that the Kingdom was striving to raise the contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the gross domestic product from 3 percent in 2019 to 10 percent by 2030, and to reach 100 million local and international tourists.

Al-Khateeb said that Saudi Arabia was the fastest growing among the G20 countries in the tourism sector, with the number of tourists now reaching more than 30 million.

He added that this represented 40 percent of the targeted number of tourists, thus making the sector one of the most important in contributing to economic growth.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia also launched a global tourism research hub to explore the tourism industry’s shift toward climate sustainability. The Kingdom’s Sustainable Tourism Global Center, together with the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, partnered with 100 institutions worldwide to launch the research hub.

The World Tourism Organization’s regional office in Riyadh, which opened in 2021 as the organization’s first regional headquarters in the Middle East, speaks volumes about the Kingdom’s important and rising position in tourism on a regional and international scale.

The minister said that travel and tourism this year contributed 6 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product. He also said he expected 100 million tourists to the Kingdom this year.

What is crucial, say Saudi and international tourism experts, is the way that the Kingdom is spearheading its growth, offering innovation in the sector while also preserving and celebrating its heritage and history.




Nancy Villanueva Garcia, CEO of Iberia & Middle East and global director of expansion markets at Interbrand, a division of Omnicom. (Supplied)

Nancy Villanueva Garcia, CEO of Iberia & Middle East and global director of expansion markets at Interbrand, a division of Omnicom, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia is increasingly growing in significance globally as a tourist destination — giving local brands the opportunity to showcase themselves on a global stage.

“Brands should seize this momentum and use it to form emotional connections with Saudi citizens and invite their customers to actively participate in this process.”

“Driving participation and engagement would enhance the relevance of these brands both regionally and internationally,” she said.

As Saudi-born Sara Faisal, a senior strategist at Imagination Saudi Arabia, points out, the Kingdom is distinctive in its tourism industry. “Saudi Arabia is different from any other place in the world in that it has two types of tourism,” she told Arab News. “It is not just a place for international tourism but also religious tourism to Makkah and Madinah. We expect tourism on an annual basis within these two diverse aspects.”

The plans for the sector, rapidly being rolled out, Faisal said, are “enhancing the infrastructure of cities and showcasing Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Faisal also noted how the rising tourism industry was also shedding light on Saudi Arabia’s local culture and the stories therein.

For example, the Royal Commission of AlUla has been working closely with the local community in building AlUla as a cultural destination. Visitors to the ancient desert region can meet local women, watch them make handmade crafts and hear their stories.




Sara Faisal, a senior strategist at Imagination Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“It’s about shining a light on the local culture,” Faisal explained. “These ladies, who are storytellers and make their own handmade crafts, have always been there … it is that now the focus has been placed on them and their work.”

Studies have shown that many Saudi women are interested in working in tourism as it is a way to showcase their culture and identity.

“We have always had a tourism sector in the Kingdom, it is not that it came out of nowhere,” Faisal said. “It has long been part of local culture to welcome guests from around the world, even during ancient times.”

The difference, she said, is that now Saudi Arabia is focused on its culture.

“Culture is one of the most important key elements in Saudi Arabia when it comes to tourism,” she said. “The Kingdom is now enriching its tourism, attracting visitors and its culture and values and ability to communicate them are important to the sector’s growth.”


Japan emperor’s 64th birthday celebrated in Riyadh

Japan emperor’s 64th birthday celebrated in Riyadh
Fumio Iwai, the nation’s ambassador, held a reception at his residence in the capital to mark the occasion. (Supplied)
Updated 21 February 2024
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Japan emperor’s 64th birthday celebrated in Riyadh

Japan emperor’s 64th birthday celebrated in Riyadh
  • Strengthening business ties between Saudi Arabia and Japan, says Tokyo’s ambassador at celebrations
  • Several firms have opened offices in Kingdom, and visa processes eased for Saudi citizens

RIYADH: Japan’s Emperor Naruhito’s 64th birthday was celebrated by the country’s embassy representatives in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Fumio Iwai, the nation’s ambassador, held a reception at his residence in the capital to mark the occasion.

The ceremony was attended by Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, deputy governor of the Riyadh region, as well as representatives of diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia.

In a speech, Iwai highlighted the progress of Japan-Saudi Arabia relations over the years. He said there have been frequent high-level contact between officials from both nations, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit last July to Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, he said Japan was honored to host Saudi Arabia’s ministers of defense, industry and mineral resources, and communications and information technology in Tokyo in 2023.

The ambassador said that Japan’s private sector businesses signed 40 agreements across various industries with Saudi Arabia firms in 2023.

Iwai added that seven Japanese companies have opened offices in the Kingdom.

He said Japan has made it easier for Saudi Arabia citizens to visit the country, with the introduction of electronic and multiple-entry visas. The number of visas issued to Saudi Arabia citizens in 2023 was four times higher than in 2022.

He said next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia signs international coffee agreement

Saudi Arabia signs international coffee agreement
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia signs international coffee agreement

Saudi Arabia signs international coffee agreement
  • The Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar signed the trade treaty
  • “We see ICO, and this updated agreement, as a key to achieving our hopes and ambitions for the coffee industry locally and globally,” Prince Khalid said

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia signed the International Coffee Agreement 2022 at the International Coffee Organization’s headquarters in London on Tuesday.

The Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar signed the trade treaty.

Under the agreement, governments, in collaboration with the private sector and civil society, will come together to determine initiatives that support a more prosperous and sustainable future for stakeholders within the global coffee value chain.

The executive director of the ICO Vanusia Nogueira said she hoped the Kingdom joining the agreement will “bring a unique new flavour to our global community.”

“Together in the spirit of international cooperation, we celebrate the diversity of coffee traditions and jointly undertake to safeguard, promote, and sustain the sector.

“I am sure that our collaboration will thrive as we foster a future where we continue to savour the richness of coffee while advocating for all aspects of sustainability,” Nogueira added.

Prince Khalid said the Kingdom’s coffee sector is growing fast and “is an important part of our plans for the future and the change we wish to bring to our country as it contributes to diversifying the national economy.”

“The Public Investment Fund launched the Saudi Coffee Company in May 2022, which is investing $319 million over the next ten years to support the growth of the national coffee industry, with the goal of boosting the country’s production from 300 tons per year to 2500 tons per year, and focusing on achieving sustainability, across the production, distribution and marketing aspects of the coffee supply chain,” the envoy added.

He continued: “We see ICO, and this updated agreement, as a key to achieving our hopes and ambitions for the coffee industry locally and globally, and we look forward to working with colleagues at ICO to secure a positive and thriving future for coffee in the years and decades to come.”


Saudi Arabia expresses regret over US veto of UN Gaza ceasefire resolution

Saudi Arabia expresses regret over US veto of UN Gaza ceasefire resolution
Updated 20 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia expresses regret over US veto of UN Gaza ceasefire resolution

Saudi Arabia expresses regret over US veto of UN Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • Thirteen council members voted in favor of the Algerian-drafted text

RIYADH: The Saudi Foreign Ministry has expressed the Kingdom’s regret over the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution proposing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the Saudi Press Agency has reported.

Thirteen council members voted in favor of the Algerian-drafted text, while Britain abstained. It was the third such US veto since the start of the current fighting, which broke out after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The ministry in a statement stressed the urgent need for reform within the UNSC, highlighting the necessity for the council to fulfill its duties in upholding global peace and security and ensure the consistent application of international law without double standards.

Saudi Arabia has also raised concern over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza, exacerbated by the escalation of Israel’s military aggression.

The Kingdom has emphasized that this undermines efforts aimed at fostering dialogue and achieving a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian cause, as outlined in applicable international resolutions.
 


Who’s Who: Anthony Aikenhead, chief development officer at the Sports Boulevard Foundation

Anthony Aikenhead
Anthony Aikenhead
Updated 20 February 2024
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Who’s Who: Anthony Aikenhead, chief development officer at the Sports Boulevard Foundation

Anthony Aikenhead

Anthony Aikenhead is the chief development officer at the Sports Boulevard Foundation where he oversees construction of the Sports Boulevard, the world’s largest urban linear park in Riyadh.

In this role, he is responsible for project and program delivery, particularly as it relates to schedule and budget. He is also developing the design and construction division of the Sports Boulevard, encouraging knowledge-sharing within the delivery team.

Aikenhead has implemented a strategic approach to effective risk management at the Sports Boulevard, creating a formal structure that has led to several proactive measures, including thorough risk assessment and continued monitoring and evaluation.

He curated and led the development of Sports Boulevard’s program execution plan, which delineated the project’s planning phase, procurement strategy and management processes.

Aikenhead has more than 40 years of practical experience in real estate and development.

Prior to joining the foundation, he held various roles at Sir Robert McAlpine, a leading UK construction and civil engineering company. From 2011 to 2016, he was director of operations and CEO, during which time he devised and implemented substantial business improvements in leadership and process.

He was the project director of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium from 2007 to 2011 and oversaw delivery of the project three months early.

Aikenhead has also held leadership roles on several other major projects in the UK, including the Millenium Dome in London and Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk.

Most recently, Aikenhead was chief real estate and delivery officer at Dubai Expo LLC, where he formulated the strategic delivery plan for the design and construction for the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

 


Saudi Arabia, France relations at their best: French senator

The French senator Nathalie Goulet spoke to Noor Nugali, Arab News' Deputy Editor-in-Chief. (AN photo by Loai Elkelawy)
The French senator Nathalie Goulet spoke to Noor Nugali, Arab News' Deputy Editor-in-Chief. (AN photo by Loai Elkelawy)
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia, France relations at their best: French senator

The French senator Nathalie Goulet spoke to Noor Nugali, Arab News' Deputy Editor-in-Chief. (AN photo by Loai Elkelawy)
  • Goulet pointed out the cultural fashion trends of the first Saudi Cup, where women were smartly dressed and wearing European-style aristocrat hats

RIYADH: A leading French senator has lauded the strength of relations between Saudi Arabia and France.

During a visit to Arab News’ headquarters in Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss cooperation, Vision 2030, and female empowerment in the Kingdom, Nathalie Goulet described bilateral links as currently being at their best.  

A member of the Senate of France representing the Orne department in Normandy, the attorney has held office for 17 years and serves as chair of the senate’s investigation committee on tax evasion and committee on foreign fighters in France and Europe. 

She noted the positive changes she had seen in Saudi Arabia over recent years, from tourism to media expansion, and the country’s raised profile on the international stage.

Goulet said: “It’s amazing, because it’s changing very fast … the music, the mixing, and everything is going very fast, without any possibility to go back.”

On the fast-developing relations between the two nations, she highlighted French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to create France 2030, an economic goal composed of 10 objectives, inspired by the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

“It is obvious that something is changing. The cherry on the milkshake is that the French president decided to have a big program and he decided to call it France 2030,” the senator added.

As part of her current visit to the Kingdom, Goulet has attended the Saudi Media Forum, an event exploring a range of topics related to the media sector’s growth and future, and covering areas such as visual, audio, print, and digital mediums. Forum discussions will also focus on the media’s role in society, politics, and the economy on a global scale.

“Media can be a massive destruction weapon, and this forum is a unique time to share opinions on the future of media, during crisis times, as well as the use of AI.”

Remarking on the forum she said; “It’s a real success! Congratulations for the organisation.” 

She will also attend for a second time the Saudi Cup horse race, taking place on Feb. 23 to 24.

Goulet pointed out the cultural fashion trends of the first Saudi Cup, where women were smartly dressed and wearing European-style aristocrat hats.

She said: “The first Saudi Cup I attended; a woman won … the women were dressed like Europeans. A lot of fashion exhibitions.” 

Goulet attended the first Saudi cup and noted that what’s “most important, is the opportunity for our strong cooperation. I am very proud because the horses are trained in my region, Normandy,  and my constituency as a leading partner in the horses connection.”

On career advice for women, she suggested working hard and learning new languages.

“I think that working hard will give you credit. If it’s not immediate, it will be later. Build yourself on your own capacity and your own work, without checking what people are thinking of you.

“Build yourself, build your own assists, and your personality. Women are now building their own personality without men, so that is really important. My strong belief is that as a woman you have to work twice as hard.”

“Saudi women are showing they were ready to lead. When we see the women abused in Afghanistan, deprived of all their freedom, we understand that gender equality remains a subject to be addressed.”