‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration

A picture taken on February 3, 2023 shows a man walking around Ancient Nabataean carved tombs at the archaeological site of al-Hijr (Hegra), near the northwestern Saudi city of al-Ula. (AFP/File)
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Updated 27 September 2023
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‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration

  • More than 500 government officials and industry leaders from 120 countries are in Riyadh from September 27 to 28
  • Saudi Arabia is the chair of the UNWTO Executive Council for 2023 and host of its Middle East headquarters

RIYADH: Since it fully opened its borders to visitors, launched a flexible e-visa system, and began developing a wide range of luxury, heritage and adventure-holiday attractions, Saudi Arabia has reinvented itself in just a few short years into a major emerging tourism market.

The Kingdom is therefore seen by many as the natural choice to host a number of events to mark World Tourism Day 2023, an international day (Sept. 27) that was established by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to celebrate the power of the sector to help bridge cultures.

This year’s meetings and discussions, which will be hosted by Riyadh on Sept. 27 and 28, will address the challenges and opportunities for the industry, under the organization’s core themes of “people, planet and prosperity.”

Saudi Arabia is chairing the organization’s executive council this year, and Riyadh is home to its first regional office in the Middle East, which positions the Kingdom as an important ambassador for tourism in the region.

More than 500 government officials will join experts and industry leaders from 120 countries at the events, which will examine the ways in which the sector is recovering from the economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic, and responding to calls for greater environmental and social sustainability.

“We have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for the global tourism sector, centered on sustainable development, job creation and economic resilience,” said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism.

“Tourism — as a catalyst for change — fosters mutual understanding, builds bridges, and safeguards cultural heritage and environmental conservation, contributing to a more harmonious world.

“World Tourism Day 2023 is an important platform for the world to celebrate the sector’s successes and explore solutions to its challenges. Saudi Arabia is honored to host this esteemed occasion and we look forward to welcoming tourism leaders from the public and private sectors to Riyadh.”

According to organizers, this year’s event is set to be the biggest and most impactful World Tourism Day in the 43-year history of the event.

In addition to Al-Khateeb, other speakers will include UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa bint Mohammed, Spain’s Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Tourism Rosa Ana Morillo Rodriguez, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism Patricia de Lille, Croatia’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac, and Turkiye’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Ersoy.

The list of speakers also includes Pansy Ho, the secretary-general of the Global Tourism Economy Forum, and the CEOs of a number of companies and organizations, including Ibrahim Koshy of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC Cruises, Greg Webb of Travelport, Ritesh Agarwal of OYO, Julia Simpson of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Matthew Upchurch of Virtuoso.

“This World Tourism Day, we focus on the vital need to invest in building a more sustainable sector for people, planet and prosperity,” said Pololikashvili.

“The day also makes clear why UNWTO underscores the need for investment in education and for greater innovation as the foundations for long-term growth and transformation. This year’s official celebration in Saudi Arabia reflects how tourism is being embraced to diversify economies and generate opportunities for all.”

The rapidly growing Saudi tourism industry is driven by the government’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda. The sector is expected to account for 10 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2030, creating 1.6 million jobs.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of economic growth worldwide and is forecast to contribute $9.5 trillion to global GDP this year alone, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

This is in line with UNWTO forecasts that tourism is on track to recover to between 80 and 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, and to exceed 2019 levels in 2024.

This is very good news for national economies in both traditional and emerging tourism markets, as the sector not only provides a wealth of employment and business opportunities, it also plays an important soft-power role in promoting cross-cultural understanding.

“Tourism is a powerful force for progress and mutual understanding,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general. “But to deliver its full benefits, this force must be protected and nurtured.

“On this World Tourism Day, we recognize the vital need for green investments to build a tourism sector that delivers for people and planet. So let us all do more to harness the full potential of sustainable tourism. Because investing in sustainable tourism is investing in a better future for all.”

The two-day event in Riyadh will focus on three subthemes: mutual understanding, economic sustainability and social prosperity.

Day one, during which delegates will explore “Tourism and Green Investments,” will include panels on the power of tourism in building bridges, investing in human capabilities, the potential of less-visited destinations, the challenges in achieving a sustainable future and the potential solutions, bridging the innovation gap, and powering entrepreneurship.

In the evening, Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah, north of Riyadh, will host a gala dinner in celebration of World Tourism Day.

The second day will include the “Tourism Leaders Forum,” under the theme “Tourism for People, Prosperity and Intercultural Dialogue,” and a session focusing on the public-sector that will explore options for a sustainable and green future for the industry.

In addition, a private-sector session will look at “seamless end-to-end travel,” with a view to developing the infrastructure, legislation and services needed for mass-transit networks worldwide that promote ease and comfort of travel.

There will also be a handover session during which Saudi Arabia will pass the baton to next year’s host nation, Georgia.

The wider aim of the event, organizers say, is to foster global collaborations, explore opportunities, strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector, and work toward an investment-led and sustainably focused future for the industry.

Delegates will have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to tourism, consider success stories and best practices that integrate tourism with green investment, and learn how the sector can be promoted as a means of bridging cultures.

Investment in tourism and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has grown rapidly since the country opened its borders more widely to foreign tourists in 2019 and introduced its e-visa system.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism was established in 2020 to bring the sector to the forefront of the Vision 2030 agenda, with the aim of creating 1 million jobs for citizens, and enabling and accelerating sustainable growth through future-focused policies.

Authorities in the Kingdom say that, guided by data, they are pursuing investments and talent-development programs to attract industry-leading partners. They have set a target of welcoming 100 million foreign visitors by 2030 and boosting the contribution of the sector to GDP from 3 percent to 10 percent during that time.

Tourism projects are under development or construction in several parts of the country, including a chain of luxury resorts along the country’s western coast known as the Red Sea project, and the island of Umluj, which is known as “the Maldives of Saudi Arabia” thanks to its crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches.

Other areas being targeted include the mountainous Asir region, a prime location for outdoor sports and adventure activities, and the ancient desert region of AlUla, site of many archaeological treasures including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra and the “Journey Through Time” master plan, a living, breathing museum and cultural-heritage hub.

On Monday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the masterplan to develop a new project in Soudah to present a new face of luxury mountain tourism. Soudah Peaks will see a luxury mountain tourism destination set 3,015 meters being created above sea level on Saudi Arabia’s highest peak.

The project will be executed by Soudah Development, a company owned by Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, that is driving the development of Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa in Asir.

The growing investment in tourism and the resulting increase in visitors is good news for key players in the Saudi hospitality industry, who have been working to expand their offerings to meet booming demand for accommodation, dining, activities and relaxation.

“The Kingdom’s identity as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, its leading investment capabilities, and its strategic geographical position all play a significant role in supporting Saudi Arabia on its journey to become a global tourism destination,” Richard Johnson, the general manager of Al-Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“World Tourism Day, held in Riyadh, will offer a prime opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s progress to this end, where travel and tourism industry leaders from around the world will gather and witness how the nation proactively connects Saudis with the world, builds bridges between cultures, nurtures hospitality talent, and creates investment opportunities for the international community.”


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 11 April 2024
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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.


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.