Ministers discuss ways to boost Gulf tourism

GCC ministers for culture and tourism hold a meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. (SPA)
Updated 13 October 2016

Ministers discuss ways to boost Gulf tourism

RIYADH: Ministers of tourism from the Gulf Cooperation Council states held their third meeting on Wednesday in Riyadh under the chairmanship of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH). Also participating was GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif Al Zayani.
Prince Sultan delivered the opening speech in which he welcomed the heads of delegations participating in the meeting on behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.
Prince Sultan said that GCC countries are blessed with security, stability and economic development in a region engulfed in conflicts due to the statesmanship of GCC rulers, adding that this state of affairs makes it imperative on all to join efforts and work on maintaining and promoting this stability and bringing together Gulf citizens who have a shared history and are linked by common cultural characteristics and social components.
He added that the tourism sector no longer means entertainment only, but involves other aspects, like economy, social development and security, and this requires that GCC states invest significantly and pool together resources to achieve the aspired economic returns and create jobs for young people.
Prince Sultan said interface tourism and integration among GCC countries should be a priority for tourism ministers. He stressed the importance of developing interface tourism and forging closer links among GCC nationals, as well as developing effective and genuine partnerships with the private sector to secure investment in tourism sector, which in turn will contribute to the employment of Gulf citizens and bolster the economy.
Qatar's Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani said in his speech: "The tourism sector is one of the main economic instruments that could play a pivotal role in strengthening the march of the GCC countries towards the diversification of their economies and in supporting their ability to respond to the fluctuations of oil price and their repercussions."
He noted that the global economic realities made it necessary for GCC countries to find a new economic model and accelerate the development of non-oil sectors, particularly tourism, as well as to take measures which ensure that this important sector contributes to the overall economic development.
He called on all Gulf states to pool efforts to promote the tourism sector, build a unified Gulf strategy in support of this vital sector and take serious steps to boost tourism among the states of the region, to ensure achieving the objectives in this sector and to promote the economic and social ties between Gulf people, which, in turn, helps develop tourism with all its auxiliary sectors in the various GCC countries.
Sheikh Ahmed praise the initiative launched by Prince Sultan and called for improving joint work in tourism through creating a Specialized Ministerial Committee, an initiative supported and adopted by Qatar.
The secretary-general of the GCC countries delivered a speech in which he expressed gratitude and appreciation to the SCTNH president for his initiative to hold a joint meeting of ministers of tourism and ministers of culture of the GCC countries, during which participants could discuss visions and ideas for promoting cooperation between these two important sectors of sustainable development.
He highlighted the second annual exhibition of crafts and arts, organized by SCTNH in Saudi Arabia, in which GCC member states participate, wishing the exhibition success, and thanked the tourism ministers of the GCC countries for their unremitting efforts and endeavors to revitalize the tourism sector in the Gulf region.
"The tourism sector in the GCC countries achieved tangible leaps over the past years, represented in increased numbers of historical sites and tourist facilities, as well as leisure hotels and resorts, and recreational cities. This has contributed to a substantial increase in the number of tourists and visitors.
"The GCC region has turned into a favorite tourist destination because of its safe and stable environment, and the sophisticated tourist services, comparable to those of the developed countries," he added.
Al-Zayani pointed out that Gulf citizenship is a reason for pride as it guarantees unrestricted freedom of movement, and this contributed to the increase in the number of travelers among GCC countries, which amounts to about 25 million per year.
He said the population of the Gulf region, including citizens and foreign residents, stands at 57 million people and this can form the driving force for cross-border tourism in the GCC region if thoughtful plans are put in place to attract local tourists and provide better services.
The secretary general highlighted the ambitious and comprehensive vision for joint tourism action among GCC member states submitted by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
The vision has been enriched by scientific and practical proposals by all member states, aimed at making GCC countries one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.
"Such a vision, once adopted, will represent a quantum leap in the joint work in the field of tourism of GCC member states," concluded Al-Zayani.


Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

Updated 54 min 37 sec ago

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai's ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources
  • Kingdom's biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA's expertise

DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center's Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s. 

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector. 

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa. 

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.

 

Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

 

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste. 

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.