Operating under Almosafer – Saudi Arabia’s leading travel company – Discover Saudi is the Kingdom’s leading destination management company, specialising in inbound travel, online distribution and MICE solutions. We speak with the Chief Tourism Officer of Almosafer, Fahad Alobailan, to find out more about one of the Middle East’s most exciting travel destinations.
Q&A WITH FAHAD ALOBAILAN, CHIEF TOURISM OFFICER, ALMOSAFER
Firstly, could you introduce us to Saudi Arabia? What kind of travellers does the region most appeal to?
Fahad Alobailan, Chief Tourism Officer (FA): The country is perfectly positioned to welcome travellers across all segments of travel as Saudi Arabia really is continuing to build offerings for everyone. This includes adventure tourism, luxury escapes, family-friendly options and a vast array of landscapes that range from lush greenery in spring, to mountains covered in snow during winter, to beautiful seaside resorts in the summer, desert activities all year round and even lush greenery for nature lovers. Saudi Arabia is also home to the Two Holy Mosques which continue to draw religious tourists travelling to perform Umrah.
What makes the region stand out as a destination for luxury travel?
(FA): In the space of a few years, the country has developed numerous hotels and resorts offering unrivalled luxury and wellness experiences. This includes the Red Sea Project – a luxury ecotourism project under development with ultra-luxury resorts offering tourists a wide variety of experiences all in one location, from deserts and mountains to volcanoes and pristine coastlines. A world-class luxury mountain resort is currently also under study in Soudah, home to the highest peaks in the Kingdom, and there are already luxury resorts operating in stunning locations including AlUla, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, Jeddah with its luxurious seaside resorts, Al Ahsa, and Diriyah, the jewel of the Kingdom.
What are some of the major tourism trends in KSA? Have you noticed this change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
(FA): During the pandemic, many people were prevented from travelling due to government restrictions across the world. Since the lifting of COVID-19 and travel restrictions, we have seen a huge resurgence of demand for travel. People are grasping at opportunities and they are no longer willing to wait for that once-in-a-lifetime trip with travellers opting to spend more on luxury experiences, including 5-star hotels. Destinations including Taif, Jizan, Al Khobar and Jeddah have become increasingly popular, with each city offering unique experiences. The historic city of AlUla has also been attracting a growing number of tourists.
Domestically, there has been a significant increase in the number of people travelling to attend conferences and events, such as the Riyadh Season, Deriyah Season and Saudi Cup, drawing people from across the Kingdom. We have seen a surge in religious travel as pilgrimage restrictions have been lifted and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that people on tourist visas are now able to perform Umrah. There is also a rising trend
of pilgrims combining their religious travel with leisure travel, extending their trip to explore the Kingdom.
What does KSA have to offer in terms of sustainable or eco-friendly travel experiences?
(FA): A sustainable tourism sector is crucial to ensuring long-term viability and sustainable growth, including stable employment, protecting social-cultural authenticity and conserving natural heritage. Discover Saudi is helping to achieve this through our committed efforts to strengthen localised knowledge sharing and reach, including human capital building through training programmes. We are also educating international travel agents on the Kingdom’s rich culture, local customs and traditions, and showcasing it to the world. This includes the tourism human capital programmes launched by the Ministry of Tourism.
There are several eco-tourism projects underway in the Kingdom, including the aforementioned Red Sea Project which aims to attract international tourists while protecting the ecosystem of the Red Sea through various conservation programmes. Elsewhere, the Green Riyadh project will increase the city’s green spaces from 1.7 square miles (sqm) to 28 sqm, and the Neom project aims to introduce a new model of urban sustainability. Meanwhile, Seera Group, in partnership with the Tourism Development Fund, is developing Raghadan Tourist Resort, the first sustainable tourism project in the Al Baha region.
Tell us more about the Saudi Vision 2030 and how Discover Saudi supports this?
(FA): In 2016, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Saudi Vision 2030 which set out the framework to achieve economic diversification. The tourism sector is a key pillar of the Vision, with a target to account for 10 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP, attract 100 million visitors annually, and host 30 million religious tourists by 2030.
We are supporting the Vision in numerous ways including actively promoting the Kingdom, particularly to travel agents, building on our success of bringing in over 20,000 tourists since 2019. We are also educating travel agents globally on the many attractions in the Kingdom and helping to dispel misconceptions. In addition, we are supporting the events and entertainment industry, which also helps to drive tourism, by providing logistic and ancillary services to support large-scale events including the Saudi Cup and Dakar Rally.
Finally, what makes 2023 the year to visit KSA?
(FA): There are many new initiatives and projects going live in 2023 that will facilitate travel to the Kingdom. Recent visa reforms, including the newly announced free transit visa, are making the country more easily accessible than ever before. This year, the Red Sea Project will welcome its first guests, the Red Sea International Airport is set to open and RIA, the new national carrier, will be launched. Saudi Arabia will also be hosting a wide range of exciting events that should not be missed, including the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Saudi Cup, numerous arts festivals and music concerts, and of course Umrah, with development taking place at many sites in Madinah and Makkah to enhance the pilgrims’ experience. With all this to come, 2023 is most definitely the year to visit the Kingdom!