A travel-experience company has Saudi Arabia’s nature and culture in its sights

Millions of residents and citizens across the Kingdom will be staying put for the foreseeable future and local tourism is set to take off. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 August 2020

A travel-experience company has Saudi Arabia’s nature and culture in its sights

  • The Traveling Panther aims to bring the Kingdom’s natural wonders and cultural heritage alive through local narratives
  • The initial focus of the five female Saudi founders is on the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, Asir and the coast of Tabuk

DUBAI: Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global travel, tourism and hospitality industry to a halt, five young Saudi women have found a silver lining.

The Traveling Panther (TTP), a Riyadh-based bespoke travel experience company, has turned to remote and forgotten areas of Saudi Arabia to display the country’s rich history and heritage.

With millions of residents and citizens across the Kingdom staying put for the foreseeable future and local tourism set to take off, their timing could not be better.

“Being a part of an industry that revolves around travel and personal interactions has definitely made things a little difficult today,” said Fahda Bander Al-Saud, TTP co-founder.

“Before the lockdown, the market was ripe with potential – the Kingdom opening up to tourism with the recent launch of the new visas was the start of a new era for the country and an exciting prospect for us as a company. The global lockdown has brought our industry to a near standstill.”

But TTP’s mission was to make the best out of a challenge. Instead of putting operations on hold, it used the time wisely to breathe, refocus, plan and prepare. “There are many things we wanted to develop, from access to a wider variety of facilities, to setting up our experience infrastructure across the Kingdom,” Al-Saud told Arab News.

“Trying to do all of that while also managing visitors and creating incredible experiences is possible, but it’s a bit like laying tracks while the train is moving.

“For all the stress that has come with the coronavirus, there’s also been a small sense of relief – we feel more prepared than ever to deliver on our promise: creating unique luxury experiences for the conscious traveler.”

Before becoming TTP, the young women were considered the “go-to” people for travelers wishing to discover places outside the London or New York norm.

“As world travelers, we were fortunate to experience the top tourist destinations,” Al-Saud said. “When TTP was created, we used our collective knowledge to explore the unexplored, and experience the world outside of what we see on social media.”

TTP has two major milestones: 2015, when the founders visited Cuba right before the embargo was lifted, causing them to reshape the way they thought about travel and starting the company; and 2017, when TTP was formalized and began to do business worldwide.

“We drew on our connections, knowledge and expertise to create one-of-a-kind experiences for select clients throughout Europe, Africa and Asia,” said Manayer Alsharekh, TTP co-founder.

“This was when that we found our two biggest strengths: our focus in engaging the local communities, and our hands-on approach to scouting and trialing all of the locations and experiences we offer. We took those two things and ran with them, and now here we are.”

“We look at everything we do through the lens of sustainability,” she said. “In this way, we ensure that we minimize our impact and help preserve these wonderful experiences for future generations. This is true for all our work, both international and local. We have a long list of destinations on offer, and we’re excited to continue developing that.”

The focus to start with is on Saudi Arabia, namely its Eastern Province, Asir and the coast of Tabuk. “Saudi Arabia has so many incredible experiences just waiting to be seen and explored,” Alsharekh said. “Our hope is to refine and promote as much of the country as possible, both for international and local travelers.”

FASTFACT

103,600sq km

Size of Al-Nafud desert, whose sweeping red dunes make for a picture-postcard setting.

The scouting process includes contacting locals in every area about their favorite locations and gaining a better understanding of the destination from those who know it best. They then look out for adventure sites and hidden gems, from interactions with locals and artisans to natural treasures and local cuisines.

“We research potential local partners at each destination and utilize their destination management services,” she said. “The TTP team then visits the destination on a test trip to see the quality and standard of our partners’ services. We then weave everything we’ve learned into a full experience for our clients.”




Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global travel, tourism and hospitality industry to a halt, five young Saudi women have found a silver lining. (Supplied)

The process allows TTP to design the ideal trip for their customers, and gives them the confidence that everything has been taken care of well before their arrival.

Through these trials, the young women got to know the beauty of their own country. “We discovered the cultural diversity and natural wonders that exist within the Kingdom’s 13 regions, from topography and dialect to cuisine and attire,” Al-Saud said.

“We discovered that each locale has its own flavor and unique splendor. This is exciting for us to showcase, as you can completely immerse yourself in the culture and see the destination in its truest form.”

The women aim to display the natural wonders and incredibly diverse culture the Kingdom has to offer, from the towering snow-capped mountains of Tabuk and the lush green valleys of Asir, to the coral reefs in the Red Sea and the mangroves in the Gulf.

When people imagine Saudi Arabia, tropical seafronts are not the first thing that comes to mind. “And yet off of its western coast, there are white sandy beaches, atolls and incredible coral reefs,” said Al-Saud.

“There are whole towns in the mountains at risk of flooding from the amount of rainfall they get every year for as long as they’ve existed. In the north, entire regions are filled with lush farmland and, on both coasts, beautiful mangroves have been thriving for ages.

“Yet if you relied on common knowledge, you would think the Empty Quarter is characteristic of the entire country. There is just so much beauty,” Al-Saud said. “The Traveling Panther doesn’t just want to showcase it, we want to explore every inch of it ourselves.

“Everything that’s happening now isn’t just opening the region up to the international community but is also benefiting locals who are beginning to see what their country has to give. That’s what we’re most excited about.”

Every year, TTP scouts out and expands into one or two new destinations internationally and locally. “Saudi Arabia has its own strategy because we see it as tourism’s final frontier,” Alsharekh said.

TTP is building these destinations by engaging the local community and raising awareness for conscious tourism. It is supporting the Saudi tourism industry within each of the regions by consulting, designing, and developing experiences and services to bring them up to international standards.

The company also aims to build a community of individuals that share a love of travel and exploration. “The community will be built on the spirit of collaboration and the joy of discovery,” she said.

“This is a long-term, far-reaching project that we’re very excited about, and we’re finding that it is developing naturally just through our day-to-day interactions with clients, partners and personal connections.”

Although there is much international and local curiosity about Saudi Arabia, Al-Saud said, there is not much knowledge about where to go and what to do given the country’s recent opening. “As nationals, we feel it’s our responsibility to showcase our Kingdom’s beauty and tell its tales through local narratives,” she said.

She described the group as “experience hunters”, whose restless nature as travelers fuels their love of exploration and finding the perfect destinations and moments.

“We love to perfect these experiences and then share them with the world,” Al-Saud said. “Think Indiana Jones, but instead of finding relics, we find moments.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

Updated 20 September 2020

Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

  • Turfah Al-Mutairi’s factory creates cutting-edge uniforms, and she hopes to expand beyond the Kingdom
  • Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with global companies to develop the field

RIYADH: Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi is the first Saudi woman to obtain a license from the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) for a military outfit factory.

The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating. She is now specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.
“My company is among the first five companies to get licensed in the field of military industries by GAMI,” Al-Mutairi told Arab News.
She said her factory works with international companies specialized in localizing production of military equipment.
These include a French company with which she has signed an agreement as a Saudi-French investment specializing in military uniforms. The clothing is designed to meet the needs of the Saudi military in the field.
“I started my career in design and textile as this was my major. Fashion and design depend on the concept more than on quantity,” she said. “There are industries, however, that depend on quantity, and this is found in the military sectors.”
She said her approach to working for the military sector was founded on two beliefs. The first is that, being a strategic sector, and from a security and political point of view, the industry should be local and domestic, and localizing it leads to self-sufficiency, Al-Mutairi said.
“The second reason is that my goal since graduation has been to be part of a cycle that seeks to create jobs for women. Textiles is one of the businesses in which women innovate, and opening production lines for this field has been my goal for over 20 years,” she added.
She has worked on the project since the establishment of her first factory 12 years ago, and she was among the first to demand the domestic production of military clothing.

The idea of localizing military industries had yet to be discussed when she first started her factory. Many of Al-Mutairi’s relatives work in the military field, which made her aware of the needs of the industry.

FASTFACTS

• The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating.

• She is specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against WMDs, biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.

“I rang the bell at the AFED-2016 exhibition, which targeted the field of spare parts, not individual equipment. I spoke to Maj. Gen. Attia Al-Malki, head of the exhibition, and he was very understanding of my idea, so I took part in the exhibition,” she said, adding: “Here comes the importance of having an official who understands the requirements of the stage and has the flexibility that enables him to make a decision.”
The exhibition also gave Al-Mutairi the opportunity to work with international companies such as BAE Systems, which specializes in aircraft production. “I discussed with them their needs, and we began to fulfill their special requirements and supply them with spare parts for military aircraft, such as engine covers, and we have started to develop our capabilities to cover their delicate product requirements,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said that spare parts are also a type of textile with unique specifications, which can demonstrate the ability of manufacturers.
“Experience begins with a small part and extends to include other parts. We have thankfully passed the stages of installation and reached the stages of creativity and innovation,” she said. For centuries, Al-Mutairi said, fabric and textile production has been women’s work, adding that military uniforms have special requirements that must help soldiers navigate in the field and surrounding terrain.
“We therefore take into account the military requirements in terms of design and material, and this is what we are trying to develop. We had experience in designing the uniforms for the staff of the National Center for Security Operations (911). Maj. Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Saleh, the center’s director, supported us, and the uniform was approved by the Ministry of Interior,” she said.


Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with global companies to develop the field. (Photo courtesy of Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi)

Her factory also took part in designing Public Security uniform. Al-Mutairi said there are some similarities between the military uniforms of Saudi armed forces and those of other countries. The most common uniform is the No. 4 camouflage, which is worn during deployment.
“They are meant to look like the surrounding area, whether it is a desert or a mountain. These are thought-out patterns, and developments are continuously made by following the latest technologies in textile engineering and color combinations,” she said. “The process of changing them takes a long time and requires decisions by the military sector.” With the comprehensive change in the Saudi economy, cutting-edge systems are encouraging investment, especially in the military industry, she said.
The country goal to localize 50 percent of the military industry. Regulations by GAMI, new systems, and employing purchasing and negotiating powers will help manufacturers achieve the ambitious target, she said.
She added that military technology has valued customers, and it is guaranteed that the products will be bought if they are of high quality.
Al-Mutairi said it is an excellent investment opportunity for Saudis and foreign investors in particular, given that the Kingdom ranks fourth globally in military expenditure, “and you can imagine that 50 percent of this huge spending goes to local factories.”
She said that despite strong competition locally, her factory alone cannot cover market demands, and that the Kingdom needs more competition in the military sector.
“It also needs to localize, train and financially support talent, in addition to developing systems, such as a procurement system. We have also seen recent reforms such as arbitration in corporate cases, and this has become clear and fast, which encourages investment,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said another step that made things easier for industry investment was the development in completing government transactions, which have moved online. “These procedures in the Kingdom only take a few minutes and the response is received electronically.”
In the future, Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with international companies to develop the field, quoting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said: “The sky is the limit.”
She has had meetings with Chinese and Greek industrial companies, and said she will work with any company that wishes to enter the Saudi market.
While the military industry always relies on patents, Al-Mutairi said it is an advanced stage in the field, and her factory is working toward that goal and focusing on it. But patents only come after mastering a skill, establishing work and starting it, she added.
Military uniforms resistant to weapons of mass destruction are unique to Al-Mutairi’s factory, as it is the only one in the Kingdom and the Gulf region to produce the clothing.
She added that the Sondos Paul Boye Company — a Saudi-French partnership — is the only company in the world to produce the uniform in two internationally known methods. “The first of which is using cellular textile, produced globally by one company, while the second uses spherical textile, produced by another specialized company.” Sondos Paul Boye also manufactures fire-resistant uniforms.
Al-Mutairi said her company is also looking to export uniforms soon.
She employs 170 workers in her factory, while there will be 213 new employees as part of a new expansion.
Many of the workers are women, she added, “because Saudi women by all means have taken over the foreign workers’ department as they complete their work very quickly and demand more tasks.”
This, she said, has added pressure on other workers to keep up with the speed and achievements of the 49 Saudi women working on the factory production line.