‘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

‘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.”

Saudi border guards thwart qat smuggling operation 

Updated 04 December 2023

Saudi border guards thwart qat smuggling operation 

RIYADH: Saudi border guards in the Jazan region have thwarted an attempt to smuggle 180 kg of qat. 

The illegal substance was confiscated, and several people arrested.  

Qat is a flowering shrub native to the Arabian Peninsula, the leaves of which act as a stimulant when chewed. 

Saudi security agencies have urged the public to report any information about drug smuggling or trafficking by calling 911 in Makkah, Riyadh, and the eastern regions, and 999 in the rest of the Kingdom. 

They can also contact the General Directorate of Narcotics Control by calling 995 or emailing [email protected]. All reports are treated with confidentiality.  

Saudi aid for Palestinians in Gaza continues

Updated 04 December 2023

Saudi aid for Palestinians in Gaza continues

RIYADH: Saudi aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip affected by the Israel-Hamas war continues to be dispatched.

So far, the Saudi aid agency KSrelief has delivered 573 tons of supplies via El-Arish International Airport in Egypt.

The help has included 24 planes carrying food baskets, shelter bags, tents, blankets, mattresses, winter clothing bags, dried baby food, dates, and medical materials.

The center has also sent ambulances, with 14 out of 20 having already arrived in the Strip.

KSrelief also sent to Al-Arish airport in Egypt several ambulances, including 14 that entered the strip, out of 20 that will arrive in Gaza. (SPA)

KSrelief also sent three ships from Jeddah Islamic Port to Port Said in Egypt carrying 401 containers, 258 containing medical supplies for hospitals there, and 143 stocked with food and shelter, to be transported to Gaza.

Meanwhile, KSrelief official Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz on Sunday met for talks in Riyadh with UN resident coordinator in Yemen, David Gressly. During the meeting, they discussed issues related to relief and humanitarian affairs in Yemen.

Also on Sunday, officials from KSrelief and the Norwegian Refugee Council in Somalia signed a cooperation agreement to provide support worth $1.5 million for the Burao Technical Institute in Somalia.

The KSrelief also sent three ships from Jeddah Islamic Port to Port Said Port in Egypt carrying 401 containers, 258 of which contained medical supplies to meet the needs of hospitals there. (SPA)



Saudi rooftop event Fowg takes Riyadh nightlife to new heights

Updated 04 December 2023

Saudi rooftop event Fowg takes Riyadh nightlife to new heights

  • Music fans dance the night away at rooftop event featuring Italian DJ Lehar
  • Saudi music events company helps build loyal community

RIYADH: At the weekend in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, a rooftop event featuring dancing and music with Italian DJ Lehar at the forefront attracted a packed house.

A handful of years ago, a scene like this was only a distant possibility in Saudi Arabia, but today MDLBeast and local creatives have left no stone unturned to make it a reality.

“It’s something beautiful when you have this impact … It was a dream, and now we see it on the rooftops,” Ayman Al-Zurayer told Arab News. He is the founder of the local music events company Desert Sound Entertainment, which brought the festivities to life.

Italian DJ Lehar headlined at Fowg during his third visit to Saudi Arabia. (Instagram/leharmusic)

Lehar, the well-known Italian DJ and producer who grew up in Venice and has performed at events like Tomorrowland, debuted some new tracks as well as ones from his labels. Having performed in Jeddah and Riyadh during his third visit to Saudi Arabia, Lehar said that even Europeans can learn from the booming music scene in the Kingdom.

“In just three years, I have to tell you I see things changing, especially the electronic music scene. It’s become one of the top capitals in the Middle East,” Lehar told Arab News. “The crowd understands everything; they can’t wait to dance. It’s a fantastic crowd.”

For the past few months, MDLBeast, the region’s music and entertainment platform, has made Thursdays a staple for weekly nights out at a unique location overlooking skyscrapers and eye-catching architecture through its first small venue activation Fowg, the Arabic word for “up” or “above.”


• Fowg music venue by MDLBeast is a unique location overlooking skyscrapers.

• For event updates check the Instagram @desertsound.co and @mdlbeast.

Rayan Al-Rasheed, senior artist booking and operations manager at MDLBeast, told Arab News: “We’re really trying to show that there’s a nightlife here in Riyadh … it’s been amazing. We collaborated with a lot of local brands to make this happen. We really wanted to integrate rather than compete with small businesses that are already on the ground and have communities.

“Desert Sound’s reputation (precedes them) — the amount of activations, the quality, the standard that they deliver. It just made sense to have them as the closing of this edition of Fowg.”

While MDLBeast has been pushing the envelope in the region to host international names, such as headlining its flagship annual music festival Soundstorm, this event sheds light on the locals, Al-Rasheed said.

Rayan Al-Rasheed, MDLBeast senior artist booking and operations manager

Desert Sound champions the same goal through smaller venues that host various artists within the EDM (electronic dance music) genre.

Unlucky partygoers were turned away at the gate of the sold-out show due to the enormous turnout, despite the event only being announced five days previously.

But it was not by accident that the house filled up. The majority of participants are ardent fans of Desert Sound, which distinguished itself by refusing to limit itself to a single-sound brand.

We really wanted to integrate rather than compete with small businesses that are already on the ground and have communities.

Rayan Al-Rasheed, MDLBeast senior artist booking and operations manager

Al-Zurayer added: “Since day one we’ve been trying to provide different experiences for people to trust the brand itself. No matter what we bring, where we go they will follow, and come because they know they’re going to have fun.”

Inaugural event Mars Escape headlined Dutch artist Satori and transported around 1,000 attendees to another dimension made distinct by live art, festival makeup and fire performances within a valley in Riyadh.

Reema Al-Saud, the brand’s co-founder, told Arab News:  “We started small (with) whatever we could handle in order to make people safe, so we could control and see the community and make girls and guys feel safe. You can’t do that with a big number so we started there and slowly evolved until we reached 2,500 — and it’s not going to stop there.”

Al-Zurayer added: “Music is education. It connects people from different languages, different cultures, and here in Saudi Arabia developing our culture in this way … that’s such an amazing way to use music.”

Desert Sound’s next event will take place on Jan. 5 in yet another distinct location. The company champions bringing new names, whether local or international, to the stage through the platform it has created.

Al-Saud said: “We want to orchestrate every preference … Every day someone new comes up but they don’t get the chance because they’re not famous enough, or whatever. But when you give them the opportunity, they exceed in every way.”

Artist and DJ Joj was looking for a medium a year ago to focus on and she eventually found her calling to music. At Desert Sound’s milestone Fowg event, she opened up the night.

“I was going through a tough time and I needed this thing (music) to keep me going ... Tonight, I loved that there were a lot of women on the dance floor who gave me the push to go further,” she told Arab News.

Her set preceded musicians ANT. and Misha Saied, who played back to back before handing gears over to Lehar.

Desert Sound brings the underground scene to the public. It built its brand by hosting acclaimed international names, who are also part of the change to leverage the local scene.

Al-Zurayer said: “This is one of the keys to unlocking internationals to seeing Saudi Arabia as a country that has love and peace. We’ve been a secret country for many years, but now is the time to show them this love. Come and discover us.”

While Fowg has just concluded its gleaming nightlife series, Al-Rasheed said that other experiences will soon surface, including one to be held in the abandoned Irqah Hospital.

To keep up with updates and upcoming events, check the Instagram @desertsound.co.

Riyadh’s ICAN 2023 states aim to keep pace with progress in global air transport

Updated 04 December 2023

Riyadh’s ICAN 2023 states aim to keep pace with progress in global air transport

  • More than 700 experts and specialists in the aviation industry are attending the event

RIYADH: The 15th International Conference on Air Services Negotiations, which is affiliated with the International Civil Aviation Organization, opened in Riyadh on Sunday with the aim of working to keep pace with rapid developments in the aviation sector.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Transport and Logistics Services Saleh Al-Jasser, who is also chairman of the board of directors at the General Authority of Civil Aviation, opened the conference, which is being hosted by the GACA with the participation of industry leaders, a number of ministers, and heads of civil aviation authorities.

More than 700 experts and specialists in the aviation industry, along with delegations from more than 100 countries and organizations, are also attending the event, which takes place from Dec. 3-7.

Al-Jasser said it was the second time the Kingdom had hosted the conference, which positioned the country among leaders in the field. He also thanked the ICAO for its partnership and support in hosting the event, which is setting a new record for attendance.

He added: “This outstanding participation confirms the importance of the conference and its success in achieving its goals and in advancing the global aviation sector.”

The Kingdom’s efforts in supporting its partners across the world to grow in the transportation and logistics services sector were acknowledged, with special thanks to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Al-Jasser said that the hosting of ICAN 2023 came in light of the unlimited support the air transport sector enjoyed from them.

He added that the Kingdom’s efforts were integrated with the strategy for transport and logistics services, which aimed to connect Saudi Arabia with the rest of the world through a comprehensive, diverse and innovative transport network in accordance with the National Aviation Strategy.

The minister added that the Kingdom was intent on strengthening its cross-border relations, and that the hosting of ICAN 2023 embodied the commitment toward dialogue, and the exchange of experiences and cultures, to work to build a united and cooperative global aviation sector.

He indicated that the agreements and partnerships made at the conference would have a positive effect on the sector.

The opening ceremony announced Malaysia as the ICAN 2024 host and featured cultural performances, in the presence of Al-Jasser, GACA President Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano, and heads of civil aviation authorities from various participating countries.

The GACA president said that the National Aviation Strategy aims to underline the Kingdom’s pioneering role in the field of civil aviation in the Middle East region, by attracting investments worth $100 billion and creating an exceptional travel experience for more than 330 million passengers annually by 2030.

The plan covers airports, airlines, aircraft and air service facilities, including air freight and logistics services, and offers travelers more than 250 destinations through 29 airports, with two global hubs in Riyadh and Jeddah.

This will significantly increase the volume of air freight from 0.8 million tons to 4.5 million tons by 2030, according to the GACA.

Al-Duailej noted that the GACA, as a strategic regulatory body, contributed to preparing the market by providing appropriate regulatory conditions and economic reforms to attract investment and provide growth opportunities throughout the Kingdom.

In addition, this initiative contributed to increasing competitiveness and transparency, providing more options for travelers, while achieving sustainable growth.

The GACA last November issued a new regulation to protect the rights of travelers to ensure that they received care, support and compensation for any difficulties faced on flights.

The GACA president added that the authority was keen to contribute, through its various efforts, to creating a safer and more sustainable global civil aviation system.

The authority would welcome communication, cooperation, and the exchange of experiences with various concerned parties, to build sustainable and advanced aviation systems in the Kingdom and other countries.

Sciacchitano said that the ICAN had succeeded, since its launch in 2008, in hosting more than 5,000 bilateral meetings, which had resulted in the signing of nearly 4,000 agreements and memorandums of cooperation with 160 participating countries.

He added that this year’s edition had attracted more than 95 countries and had more than 700 participants, while expectations were that the number of meetings during the event could exceed 485.

Ministers and heads of civil aviation authorities visited an exhibition which accompanies the conference. It showcases existing and future projects within the sector, and the opportunities offered, including in areas such as air mobility, space, sustainability, and advanced technologies.

The ICAN event, which is the largest of its kind for negotiating and discussing air transport affairs, aims to keep pace with rapid developments in the global air transport industry.

The conference will also witness the establishment of a ceremony to distribute the Facilities Award, hosted by the GACA, and concludes on Dec. 7, International Civil Aviation Day.



Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba, MoC commission launch youth creative writing scheme

Updated 03 December 2023

Saudi Arabia’s Mawhiba, MoC commission launch youth creative writing scheme

  • The commission, operating under the ministry, plays a pivotal role in identifying and fostering talent, aligning its efforts with Saudi Vision 2030

JEDDAH: A new initiative to develop the creative writing skills of young Saudi students has been launched by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, known as Mawhiba, in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Culture, represented by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission.

The “Generation of Literature” initiative is targeting exceptionally talented middle school students, underscoring the significance of nurturing and harnessing their innate talents, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

With a focus on broadening knowledge of genres including science fiction, detective stories, children’s tales, short stories and essays, the initiative has enlisted more 150 students from regions across the Kingdom.


• The ‘Generation of Literature’ initiative has enlisted more 150 students from regions across the Kingdom.

• The nine-week program will be conducted both in person in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran, and virtually.

• It will focus on broadening knowledge of genres including science fiction.

The nine-week program will be conducted both in person in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran, and virtually, ensuring equal opportunities for students across Saudi Arabia.

The commission, operating under the ministry, plays a pivotal role in identifying and fostering talent, aligning its efforts with Saudi Vision 2030.

By empowering gifted students in the realm of creative writing, the authority aspires to create an inspiring environment that nurtures talent and creativity, and encourages literary expression among students.

Mawhiba delivers multiple enrichment programs for promising students, providing them with advanced scientific knowledge and experiences that both challenge and refine their abilities.

Mawhiba’s programs also promote efficiency and readiness, helping students take part in scientific and practical experiences rooted in international methodologies.

Students are prepared for programs sponsored by Mawhiba, both within and outside the Kingdom.

The “Generation of Literature” initiative is carefully tailored to align with the literary fields and genres suitable for the targeted age group.