We have everything we need - diverse nature, strong culture, great people - to achieve our target: Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019. (Supplied/Royal Commission for Al-Ula)
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Updated 23 December 2020
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We have everything we need - diverse nature, strong culture, great people - to achieve our target: Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

  • Al-Khateeb appeared on talk show Frankly Speaking, in which leading decision-makers are questioned on big Middle East issues
  • He told Arab News the Kingdom is “building amazing destinations” all the way from NEOM to Amaala and Jeddah Downtown

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is on track to meet its ambitious target of attracting 100 million visits to the Kingdom by 2030, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Kingdom’s Minister for Tourism, told Arab News.

“Our target is indeed ambitious,” he said. “However, we have everything we need to achieve our target.”

Some analysts have questioned whether the 100 million target might be too challenging to achieve, especially set against the numbers of tourists that visit countries with many decades of investment in the tourism industry, like France and the UAE, which respectively had 96 million and 16 million last year.

But Al-Khateeb — appointed minister last year — is confident that the Kingdom’s unexplored attractions will be an irresistible lure for global tourists in search of new experiences.

“We have a large country, diverse nature, a strong culture and great people, and therefore we have everything to get to the target we announced. I don't know any reason why not,” he insisted.

The minister was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the new series of televised interviews in which leading playmakers, in the Kingdom and beyond, are questioned on the big issues of the day.




The drive to develop the Saudi tourism industry is one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy. (Supplied)

He backed up his confidence with some hard facts. Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019, according to statistics from the UN World Tourism Organization, compared with around 1.5 billion tourists globally in 2019, leaving a big potential market for Saudi Arabia to aim at.

Large number of those travelers — around 600 million, Al-Khateeb estimated — wanted “sun, sea and sand” holidays, and he said Saudi Arabia was well placed to offer those attractions. “We are building amazing destinations at the Red Sea, all the way from NEOM to Amaala and Jeddah Downtown, therefore we will enrich the sun and sea offering and we will compete (in that segment),” he said.

But there seems to be no plans to offer alcoholic refreshments to those holiday-makers. Some industry analysts regard alcohol as an essential part of the global tourism package, but Al-Khateeb said that his own market research did not necessarily back this up.

“From the research we have conducted in more than 25 countries — and we took a very big sample — 40 to 50 percent of travelers say they would travel to our destinations that are not offering alcohol. Therefore, we have a lot to offer other than alcohol, and there is a lot to improve in hospitality, culture, food or luxury. You name it, we will be competing on other things,” he said.

More relaxed standards of dress would be allowed on private beaches and resorts — as is currently the practice in the Kingdom. But here are no current plans to change the dress code on public beaches in Saudi Arabia, he added.

The drive to develop the Saudi tourism industry is one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy. The Kingdom has been progressively relaxing the strict travel and visa requirements of previous years, and is looking to promote it as a tourist destination across all sectors of the travel market.

The ministry’s market research also revealed a big potential market for affluent travelers seeking to explore culture, heritage and history in Saudi Arabia. “Some 30 percent of the 1.5 billion travelled for history and heritage and we have 10,000 discovered historical sites in Saudi Arabia, and five UNESCO listed sites,” Al-Khateeb said.

“Therefore, we will definitely enrich the history and heritage offering globally. People are anxious to come and experience and learn about civilizations past in this region thousands of years ago,” he said.

High-end elite tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the international travel business, and Saudi Arabia hopes to capitalize on this trend, bringing big-spending affluent travelers to sites like AlUlla and other historical locations on the Red Sea. “We see a gap in this luxury offering,” Al-Khateeb said.




Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019. (Supplied/Royal Commission for Al-Ula)

But he is also conscious of the financial attractions of the middle segment of the tourism market, seeking beach or adventure holidays. “Today we have major offerings in 2-, 3- and 4-star accommodation, as well as food and beverage and retail. When it comes to these activities, like sport and the adventure, we are improving our offering at the high end and we are building destinations that will also satisfy the middle segment,” he said.

“Whether at the mountains or the cities or the sea it is the same thing. We have many projects today that are catering for the middle class.”

After careers in banking and government service, Al-Khateeb became tourism minister with a mandate to propel the industry towards new highs, and launched new seasons of visitor attractions late last year, alongside a fast-track visa application process for many countries in the world. But he was almost immediately faced with the huge challenge of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has hit global tourism harder than perhaps any other area of economic activity.

He sees some silver lining in the pandemic, and the government response to it.

“We focused on domestic tourism, so we launched the summer campaign this year and it was a great success. The campaign was supervised by the health committee, and they ensured social distancing and people wearing masks. The result was that more than 8 million people travelled around the 10 destinations that we launched in the summer, and more than $3bn dollars were spent domestically,” he said.

Saudis have traditionally been big spenders on their foreign travels, effectively exporting $22 billion of tourism spend in 2019. Al-Khateeb hopes that some of that cash can be kept in the Kingdom in the future as domestic attractions open up. “We have reduced the leakage. In 2019 we launched 11 ‘seasons’ in Saudi Arabia and reduced the travel outside by 30 percent. When we continue to do this, we will definitely reduce the leakage — Saudis will like to stay at home and they will enjoy the offering,” he said.




Landscape shot between Wadi Al Dawasir and Haradh in Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File photo)

Luring visitors from the wider Gulf region is also a priority. But the big plans for the Saudi tourism industry will require big investment, and a large proportion of it is expected from outside investors who can be persuaded that the Kingdom is a viable destination - for global tourists as much as for their investment dollars. As a former banker, Al-Khateeb understands very well the challenges involved.

“We need to inject about $70 billion until 2023, and more than $200 billion by 2030 to fill the gap in the offering, whether in retail or in hospitality or in recreation,” he said. “Therefore, we have been sharing our story with the world. They (international investors in leisure) came and looked at our amazing natural resources, our heritage and history and culture, and they definitely see that there is an amazing opportunity,” he said.

“We are very optimistic about attracting investors from outside Saudi Arabia to come and join our very rewarding journey.”

Foreign investment in all sectors is up 12 per cent so far this year, even with the challenges of the pandemic. There is no doubting the challenges involved in “selling” Saudi tourism to a sometimes skeptical world that often fails to see the Kingdom’s attractions while it is focusing instead on negative stereotypes. But Al-Khateeb thinks that, as more and more people visit the country and experience its unique attractions, that global mindset will gradually change.

“Saudi Arabia is going through a major transformation, and we welcome and invite people to come and experience Saudi Arabia and see the changes that happened in the last few years,” he said. “We have achieved a lot so far and the best thing to do is to come and experience life here and see the changes on the ground.”

Twitter: @frankanedubai


Passports chief inspects workflow at Jeddah airport

Updated 11 April 2024
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Passports chief inspects workflow at Jeddah airport

  • Al-Yahya urged the passport officers to perform their assigned tasks with efficiency and to continue in their efforts to serve guests

JEDDAH: Director General of Passports Lt. Gen. Sulaiman bin Abdulaziz Al-Yahya recently inspected the workflow at the passport departments at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and the Umrah halls.

The inspection aimed to assess the work progress, follow up on the performance of the workers, and complete the departure procedures for Umrah pilgrims.

During the inspection, Al-Yahya congratulated and presented gifts to passengers traveling through the airport on the occasion of Eid Al-Fitr.

He also urged the passport officers to perform their assigned tasks with efficiency and to continue in their efforts to serve guests.

 


Saudi foreign minister discusses Gaza in calls with US, Algeria

Updated 29 min 36 sec ago
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Saudi foreign minister discusses Gaza in calls with US, Algeria

  • Parties review regional developments

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Thursday received a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Kingdom’s ministry said.

The parties reviewed regional developments and ways to reduce the escalation of tensions in the Middle East.

They also focused on issues of common interest, most notably Sudan, developments in the Gaza Strip, and the importance of introducing more humanitarian aid to the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Prince Faisal also made a telephone call to Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Attaf to discuss regional developments and the conflict in Gaza.

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Who’s Who: Areej Al-Johani, member of the International Academic Advisory Board of the International Anti-Corruption Academy

Areej Al-Johani
Updated 11 April 2024
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Who’s Who: Areej Al-Johani, member of the International Academic Advisory Board of the International Anti-Corruption Academy

Areej Al-Johani has recently been appointed a member of the International Academic Advisory Board of the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Vienna until 2030, a term of six years.

Al-Johani is a highly accomplished professional with a distinguished career in the Saudi Arabian government.

She currently serves as the director of policies, awareness and training for the integrity department at the Ministry of Defense.

Al-Johani brings a wealth of experience in leadership, policy development, and program implementation to the role.

Her dedication to public service is evident throughout her career. She previously served as the deputy health minister’s human resources counselor for business quality.

Al-Johani also worked as general supervisor of the Conflict of Interest and Disclosure Office at the Saudi Health Ministry.

She served as director general of the ministry’s workforce planning department from April 2019 to February 2021.

Al-Johani has been a certified internal assessor at the Health Ministry for the King Abdulaziz Quality Award since 2018.

She headed the quality excellence team at the ministry’s deputyship of human resources between 2018 and 2019, and was a coordinator of the leadership renewal program in 2016.

Al-Johani worked for nearly a year in 2009 as supervisor at the learning and resource center of the Jeddah-based Al-Abnaa High School.

Al-Johani has attended various local and international training courses. She is the recipient of several prestigious professional awards and has had research papers published in various journals, and attended conferences both inside and outside the country.

Al-Johani received a bachelor’s degree in education from King Saud University in 2003. After completing a master’s degree at the University of Glamorgan, she obtained a Ph.D. in technology science from the University of South Wales.

 


Saudi novelist Sultan Ayaz’s ‘Crossing Thoughts’ to be adapted into manga

Updated 11 April 2024
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Saudi novelist Sultan Ayaz’s ‘Crossing Thoughts’ to be adapted into manga

  • Ayaz’s novel, written in English, tells the story of humans defending their lands against the oppression of demons
  • In the book, humans fight off demons by using elemental magic and swordplay

RIYADH: A fantasy novel by a Saudi author has been chosen for adaption into a manga, Japan’s famous style of graphic novel.
Sultan Ayaz finished writing the story of “Crossing Thoughts” in 2014, and says the adaptation deal with Manga Arabia is the result of a decade-long dream.
Manga are comics or graphic novels originating from Japan, conforming to a style developed in the late 19th century, though the form has antecedents in earlier Japanese art.
Ayaz’s novel, written in English, tells the story of humans defending their lands against the oppression of demons. It is about the eternal conflict between humans and demons, and a man who stands in between.
In the book, humans fight off demons by using elemental magic and swordplay.
The narrative begins with Drake, a little boy, who, along with his family, lives in tranquility in a tiny town. But the town is destroyed by a demonic attack, which Drake miraculously survives.
Three characters emerge — Aria, Ray and Amber — and study the nature of elements at the Grand College of Elements in the Kingdom of Iora. They learn how to use the elements as weapons against their demonic foes.
“Crossing Thoughts” is full of drama, action and a hint of terror.
Ayaz told Arab News: “I was always into writing in English since high school, and I was influenced by video games and anime, which strongly developed my imagination. Along with daydreaming and creating scenarios in my head, I always wanted to have my own story. So, I started to write short stories from time to time to fulfill this desire.”
The Saudi author said he was “ecstatic” to sign a deal with Manga Arabia and adapt his novel.
“‘Crossing Thoughts’ is the result of hard work and sincere dedication, and I am very proud of it. Since I finished writing the novel back in 2014, I always wanted to have it adapted into a manga or an anime, because I believe it is suitable for such adaptation,” he said.
“When I signed the contract with Manga Arabia, I felt overwhelming happiness, because, for 10 years, this is exactly what I was aiming for. I am very proud of this achievement and honored to be chosen among other talented Saudi authors to be part of this project.”
In 2020, Ayaz became one of the first Saudi novelists to have a fiction work published internationally when a British publishing house, Olympia Publishers, acquired the rights to publish “Crossing Thoughts.” The book was first released locally in 2017 and sold in Virgin Megastores.
“During this journey, I faced many obstacles and hardships that almost forced me to drop my novel and just focus on balancing my life. My father passed away. I had to drop college for a couple of years, and worked in several minimum wage jobs just to contribute to covering the living expenses of my family. But, eventually, I was inspired by my mother’s strength and decided to push myself to the limits and overcome all that, and I succeeded,” Ayaz said.
The writer used two monthly salaries just to cover the printing and publishing expenses of his work.
And though he faced some criticism because the novel was authored in English, “Crossing Thoughts” sold well in Saudi Arabia, attracting the attention of Olympia Publishers.
“I am rather pleased with ‘Crossing Thoughts.’ It is the first English-language fantasy book by a Saudi author to be published, and it helped me overcome my anxiety of failing by landing me live TV appearances and magazine features. It is the sole outcome of real commitment and persistent work,” Ayaz said.
His advice for young writers is to never aim for fame, set your goals straight and persuade audiences with continuous effort. Always remember that “the journey’s experience is priceless,” he said.
Last month, Manga Arabia chose five Saudi authors to have their novels turned into comic stories.
“Drawing Nothingness” by Ashraf Al-Faqih was already featured in the Manga Arabia Youth magazine.
“The Voyagers” by Kendah Jambi, Ayaz’s “Crossing Thoughts,” “The Awsaj” by Al-Jawhara Al-Rimal and Ghada Al-Marzouqi’s “I Live My Memories Upside Down” will also be published in Manga Arabia magazine’s print and digital editions.
The project is part of joint efforts between the Saudi Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission and Manga Arabia to support businesses in the publishing sector.
The manga initiative has been hailed as a “cultural leap” in the presentation of Saudi literature worldwide, and an indicator of progress in the Kingdom’s burgeoning creative industries.


From Ardah to Samri: Diriyah festivities bring Saudi culture to life

Updated 11 April 2024
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From Ardah to Samri: Diriyah festivities bring Saudi culture to life

  • Festivities are set to take place across various locations, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif, the premium culinary destination of Bujairi Terrace, and Diriyah mosques
  • Festivities will feature a series of events, including captivating performances of the Saudi Ardah, the traditional celebratory dance, and the lively Samri folklore dance

RIYADH: The historic town of Diriyah has been transformed into a festive wonderland as the Diriyah Gate Development Authority has revealed an exciting lineup of events and activities for residents and visitors to celebrate this year’s Eid Al-Fitr.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, festivities are set to take place across various locations, including the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif, the premium culinary destination of Bujairi Terrace, and Diriyah mosques.

The Eid Al-Fitr celebrations at At-Turaif will embody traditional Saudi hospitality. Visitors will be greeted with the rich aroma of Saudi coffee and dokhon, promising an unforgettable experience.

The festivities will feature a series of events, including captivating performances of the Saudi Ardah, the traditional celebratory dance, and the lively Samri folklore dance, the SPA reported.

In addition to activating the Nuzul experience, it transports visitors back in time to immerse them in the daily life of At-Turaif during the First Saudi State.

Through a series of theatrical performances, guests get a glimpse of life as it was 300 years ago. Each mudbrick house along Nuzul Street represents a different aspect of that era, inviting visitors to step inside and experience history like never before.

From shopping in the souq to schooling and visiting the doctor, the Nuzul experience offers a unique opportunity to engage with the past in a truly immersive way.

Visitors can partake in activities such as the purebred Arabian horse show, the Diriyah coffee workshop, and calligraphy stalls offering beautifully written Arabic names.

The DGDA decorated five mosques across the city to elevate the festive spirit for the Eid Al-Fitr celebrations. These mosques hosted special breakfast tables on the first day of Eid, creating a warm and welcoming environment for everyone.

The Huwamah event also featured several buses touring Diriyah’s neighborhoods in the evening, allowing families and visitors to partake in the Eid activities.

Nearly 25,000 gifts, including chocolate boxes, were distributed at various sites, adding to the festivities, the SPA stated.

Souq Al-Mawsim also welcomed visitors for the first time during Eid Al-Fitr, offering a range of exciting activities.

Visitors to Bujairi Terrace were able to indulge in a variety of activities, including live music performances, engaging storytelling sessions, curated workshops for children, and a range of traditional games and activities.

The authority remains committed to fostering strong connections with the local Diriyah community, extending a heartfelt welcome to residents and visitors on all occasions throughout the year.