How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism

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A deserted California beach on July 4, 2020 as pandemic curbs hit the travel industry worldwide. (Getty Images)
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A deserted California beach on July 4, 2020 as pandemic curbs hit the travel industry worldwide. (Getty Images)
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People walk past empty tables and chairs in Melbourne, Australia, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2022
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How Saudi Arabia can become the vanguard of sustainable tourism

  • An agreement with Jamaica puts resilient tourism at the heart of the industry’s post-pandemic recovery
  • The pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of tourism not only to pandemics but also extreme weather

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is stepping up its efforts to become the vanguard of a UN pledge to develop a sustainable model of tourism after the sector’s levels of resilience were pushed to breaking point by the pandemic and new dire warnings of tourism’s environmental footprint emerged.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on May 6, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said lessons about tourism’s vulnerability to sudden, unexpected events must be taken from the pandemic — which cost the sector 62 million jobs worldwide — and changes made.

“COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability of the sector, not only to pandemics but also to the effects of extreme weather, so addressing climate change must be at the heart of building a more resilient tourism, and there is no resilience without sustainability,” he said.

“We must work collaboratively, putting sustainable, resilient tourism at the heart of inclusive recovery. Only by doing these things together will we ensure better and more resilient futures for the millions around the world reliant on tourism.”




A partial view shows an ancient Nabataean carved tomb at the archaeological site of Hegra, near the northwestern Saudi city of AlUla. (Photo by 

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) welcomed the Saudi efforts, noting that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 has already provided the blueprint for a “transformative and deeply ambitious” economic strategy, and could do the same for tourism.

A spokesperson for the UNWTO told Arab News: “This ambitious plan aims to reshape the social and cultural landscape, accelerating growth through strategic investment, new industries and leadership.

“It is an opportunity to bring Saudi Arabia’s heritage, culture and hospitality to the world; and deliver on climate and sustainability goals. Properly managed, tourism can play a key role in achieving this vision.”

Scientists have said CO2 emissions from tourism will increase by 25 percent by 2030 compared to 2016 levels, which if left unaddressed could be a bullet for the sector as visitors begin to factor in the impact, and morality, of climate change on their destination choices.

Signaling the Kingdom’s intent to become the shepherd to sustainability, Al-Khateeb and his Jamaican counterpart, Edmund Bartlett, signed earlier this month a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on developing sustainable and resilient tourism between the two countries.

Part of the agreement also included determination to not only embrace the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but to lay out a blueprint that can be rolled out globally for a sustainable model of tourism.




The Taif rose season draws visitors from Saudi Arabia and beyond. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Although firm details on the blueprint have yet to emerge, the UNWTO spokesperson noted that policymakers are “best placed” to play a central role so long as their policies include aims to reduce environmental impacts of consumption and production patterns.

“National tourism planning is a well-established practice among national authorities with national tourism policies covering on average a time frame of 10 years and addressing the same thematic areas across regions,” the spokesperson added.

“Aspects such as human resource development, investment, marketing and promotion, employment, product development and diversification have been factored into the policies as these are relevant aspects for the sustainable economic development of tourism.”

Jonathon Day, associate professor and Marriott School of Hospitality and Tourism Management graduate program director, applauded the Kingdom’s “ambition and commitment,” believing it could become a leader in sustainable development.

“Tourism developed sustainably has the potential to contribute substantially to sustainability challenges faced by Saudi Arabia and the world, and I’m sure that through tourism Saudi Arabia can join the destinations leading in sustainable development,” Day told Arab News.

“The Kingdom has the resources to invest in infrastructure to support sustainability goals and knows that tourism that doesn’t adopt the principles of sustainability can make sustainability issues worse. It requires commitment to achieve positive outcomes.”

Day is not alone in seeing Saudi Arabia’s financial resources as key in any effort it may make to lead the way in green tourism, with Prof. Willy Legrand of the International University of Applied Sciences believing it “would translate” in attracting talent and developing policy.




AlUla, home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the heart of the Kingdom’s tourism ambitions. (Courtesy: Royal Commission of AlUla)

“Not only this, the resources allow the country to develop and implement state of the art (existing) solutions as well as being a pipeline for the testing of new solutions to tackle some of the greater tourism challenges,” Legrand told Arab News.

Architect and sustainable tourism consultant Amine Ahlafi said that while Saudi Arabia had only recently opened for tourism more broadly, it was important to remember it had a rich history of religious tourism, and this was something it could learn from.

Anywhere from 2.5 million to 9 million pilgrims travel to the Kingdom each year, Ahlafi told Arab News that this results in around 15 million plastic cups being used to cater to the water needs of everyone traveling.

“You can of course use technology to recycle all the disposable cups, but sustainable tourism should be about finding ways to raise awareness so that we don’t have to rely on technology,” he said.

“As for developing new tourism, I think they should promote the desert potential of tourism as they can market it as a very interesting place for sustainable tourism — which does not mean they have to reduce the quality.

“We can do luxury combined with sustainability and not in a greenwashing way with the design of luxury desert camps that optimize the natural resources, the sun and the wind for energy.”

Ahlafi said a blueprint would need to be predicated on pushing technology and the habitat you find yourself in. “Technology is the tool, not the solution, the solution is building to suit the environment, not trying to have the environment suit you.”

Legrand said the Kingdom’s capacity to achieve its aims would depend on a “declaration of transparency” in which it not only set out its goals but communicated actions undertaken and results achieved.

Day said it was also important to construct the blueprint not as a series of steps that would work for every country but rather to realize it as a list of questions that all countries could ask of themselves.

“Sustainability and sustainable tourism are ‘wicked problems,’ which means there are many things that need to be done, and it requires many organizations and parts of government to work to achieve common goals,” Day said.

“And while there are a common set of tasks, each destination will have different priorities. So, the questions may be the same — but the answers may be different. For instance, Saudi Arabia probably will focus on water conservation more than some destinations.”

Legrand agreed that the Kingdom’s ability to produce a global blueprint would depend on its ability to recognize that there would be “no one size fits all” approach, but rather a series of questions and inclusion of all stakeholders in the process.

He suggested the questions could include: What are hoteliers’ views on sustainability? Are the restaurateurs capitalizing on local agriculture? Are local communities involved? What are the challenges for these different actors? Are the destination marketers aware?

But he also noted that there were “clear, key topics” that would need to be addressed in a global, universalized manner, not least of which is the elephant in the room: Long-haul air travel.

“Long-haul travel remains a major challenge on the emission front and will remain so for the years to come, although airlines are making progress both in terms of efficiencies and fuel technologies,” he said.

“Transparency at the booking stage is critical to make the right decisions about a trip, here Travalyst and its many members are making progress in providing travelers with that information, such as the carbon footprint of specific airline routes, for example.”

Both Day and Legrand agreed that for Saudi Arabia to meet its ambitions as the vanguard in a push towards sustainable tourism, the country would need to hang its efforts around the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for industry, not least “collaboration and cooperation.”

They face many challenges, foremost of which is improving citizens’ trust in state institutions.

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Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart

Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart

RIYADH: An official Saudi source denied on Monday allegations circulating on social media platforms regarding a meeting between Majid Al-Qasabi, Minister of Commerce, and an Israeli occupation official, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The same source said in a statement carried by SPA that the video circulated was while Al-Qasabi was standing with his Nigerian counterpart, prior to the opening of the thirteenth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Abu Dhabi.

“The individual shook (the Saudi minister’s) hand and then was introduced, without (Al-Qasabi’s) prior knowledge,” the source told SPA.

This was followed by Israeli media reports claiming that the two discussed peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel, with one Israeli outlet running a picture of the two under the heading: “Israeli minister and Saudi counterpart shake hands and discuss ‘making history together.’”

The source also affirmed to SPA Saudi Arabia’s firm position on the Palestinian issue and its steadfast support for the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression.


King Salman given award for services to Arab security

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud receives the award on behalf of King Salman in Tunis. (SPA)
Updated 26 February 2024
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King Salman given award for services to Arab security

  • The award was received by the Kingdom’s Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud
  • Interior minister said the council is keen to achieve stability and development in the Arab world

RIYADH: King Salman was given the Prince Naif Award for Arab Security on Monday for his services to the security of the Arab community, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Arab Interior Ministers Council conferred the award and it was received by the Kingdom’s Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud in Tunis during a council meeting.  

The minister said the meeting was being held at a time when the Palestinian people are experiencing an unstable security situation which has caused the suffering of thousands of children, women, and the elderly. 

He said that the council, since its inception, is keen to achieve security for Arabs and bring about stability and development.

Prince Abdulaziz said the world is witnessing developments in cyber crime, the misuse of artificial intelligence, and advanced drug trafficking methods. 

These developments have “created fertile ground for the spread of multiple types of organized crime,” armed organizations, and terrorist groups which requires developing plans to invest in infrastructure and support development, education, and capacity building to confront these threats. 

He added that Arab coordination to deal with these threats is important in order to mitigate the possible negative repercussions from such threats. 


Saudi crown prince receives chairman of Russia’s State Duma

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin in Riyadh.
Updated 26 February 2024
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Saudi crown prince receives chairman of Russia’s State Duma

  • During the reception, the crown prince and Vyacheslav Volodin discussed the friendly relations between their countries

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received the chairman of Russia’s State Duma in Riyadh on Monday.

During the reception, the crown prince and Vyacheslav Volodin discussed the friendly relations between the Kingdom and Russia.

They also reviewed prospects for parliamentary cooperation and discussed issues of common interest.


Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

Updated 26 February 2024
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Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

  • French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany pays tribute to Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash
  • Month-long event will have events organized by French-speaking nations

JEDDAH: French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany opened the Francophonie Festival on Sunday here with soulful tributes to Arab legends including Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash.

Dressed in white and gold attire, reminiscent of the clothing of the ancient Egyptians, El-Dibany, accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion, took the audience on a musical journey transcending borders and cultures.

El-Dibany’s repertoire included iconic French tunes such as “Je suis malade” and Arabic classics.

Diplomats, French expats, and cultural enthusiasts from Saudi Arabia and France attended the launch event. (Supplied)

El-Dibany said: “I am so thankful for being here in Jeddah for the first time,” encapsulating the spirit of cultural exchange and collaboration that defines the Francophonie Festival.

Prior to the performance, the French consul-general in Jeddah, Mohammed Nehad, spoke about the festival’s significance.

FASTFACTS

● The Francophonie Festival’s aim is to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

● For the opening performance, Farrah El-Dibany was accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion.

● The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabian officials and citizens.

He said the aim was to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

“Through this festival, we aim to bring people together … francophone itself is a great example for cultural exchange,” he told Arab News.

The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabia officials and citizens.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Among those in attendance was Larry Lamartiniere, the director of Alliance Francaise in Jeddah, who lauded El-Dibany’s performance as a fitting inauguration of the month-long Mois de la Francophonie 2024 in Saudi Arabia.

He told Arab News: “During March, the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise Saudi Arabia alongside other French-speaking countries and partners will organize events celebrating the rich diversity of francophone cultures.”

Established in 1970, the month is aimed at promoting cultural ties and human development across French-speaking nations worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, the festival acts as a platform for cultural exchange and education.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Several upcoming events include Benjamin Piat performing at NougCafe on Feb. 28, and the French University Graduates’ Night on March 27.

The Alliance Francaise will host a children’s workshop on Feb. 29, featuring culinary and visual arts programs. This will take place alongside a screening of the 2022 French film “Divertimento” that is the story of twin teenage sisters who dream of forming their own orchestra and making classical music available to everyone.

Senegal’s consulate will have discussions and cultural exchanges, the Francophonie Village will have a celebration of food, clothing and folk dance; and there will also be films shown at various schools, consulates and French clubs.

 


Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup

Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup

  • Raghad Al-Hogail’s jewelry creations are inspired by Saudi heritage, Arab identity

RIYADH: Los Angeles-based Saudi jewelry designer Raghad Al-Hogail brought showstopping looks to the Saudi Cup, accentuating her style statement with select pieces of jewelry she designed.

The founder of Ragail Jewelry spoke to Arab News about the thought that went into the pieces she was wearing: “I chose the most relatable piece — the Sun Orchid flower — because this flower when planted anywhere, it helps the other plants around them to grow and this is how I feel about Saudi people, they help each other grow.”

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. (Supplied)

Ragail Jewelry, a Saudi brand founded in 2014, features collections that emphasize the Saudi and Arab identities. Al-Hogail is proud of her identity and heritage, which is why she incorporates motifs such as Arabic lettering, camels, and Saudi coffee dallah in her designs.

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. It was her first time designing and presenting a collection, and she was surprised when every piece sold.

“In high school, my pieces were just brass, ribbon, and plastic and when my entire inventory was sold, I realized I had something special when it came to jewelry.

HIGHLIGHTS

● Ragail Jewelry was founded by Saudi designer Raghad Al-Hogail in 2014.

● The designs incorporate motifs such as Arabic lettering, camels, and Saudi coffee dallah.

● The designer hopes to create an art gallery in Saudi Arabia where people can engage and create art pieces.

“I participated in galleries and exhibits inside and outside the Kingdom and went to 40 shows around the world, including Paris Fashion Week, the Doha Jewelry Show, and more. I also started using materials like diamond, silver, and gold,” she said.

She exhibited her collections in Personage concept store from 2018 to 2020 and recalls it as a “a good experience.”

A piece inspired by the silver frame around the Black Stone located in the corner of the Kaaba in Makkah. (Supplied)

Al-Hogail relocated to California in 2014, attended a jewelry design school, and launched her own business in the downtown district of Los Angeles.

Speaking about her process and what inspires her collections, she added: “We don’t create collections for the summer or winter, but I do artwork whenever I get inspired. Stories served as inspiration for the pieces we created. It can occur at any moment, just like when writing a poem.”  

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. (Supplied)

According to Al-Hogail, each piece has a story, and the main reason for this is that she wants people to be able to relate to the story— when they wear the jewelry, they experience and become a part of it.

The pieces are made in Los Angeles and start at $400. She has also designed a piece that sold for $400,000, her most expensive creation.

I believe that when creative people come together … they flourish, and I want Saudi Arabia to have such an environ-ment.

Raghad Al-Hogail, Saudi jewelry designer

Al-Hogail said that her most sentimental collection is the Organic line, which she designed during a period of homelessness. The collection was inspired by the silver frame around the Black Stone located in the corner of the Kaaba in Makkah.

Despite being based in Los Angeles, the designer hopes to create an art gallery in Saudi Arabia where people can engage and create art pieces. She also hopes to take part in additional exhibitions within the Kingdom.

Speaking about why this dream is important to her, she said: “I enjoy being in creative environments because I believe that everyone is creative in some capacity. I believe that when creative people come together, whether they be authors, musicians, designers, or something else entirely, they flourish, and I want Saudi Arabia to have such an environment. A gathering place for all artists.”