Business tourism will shape future of Saudi travel
While countries across the globe continue to evaluate the many uncertainties that have come to shadow the corporate travel industry, Saudi Arabia is surging ahead to grow this subsector as part of its destination strategy.
With the country becoming more bullish in its efforts to make its tourism sector more resilient, capitalising on the resurgence of corporate travel becomes pertinent. As a long-preferred destination for regional and international business leaders, Saudi Arabia recognises the need to leverage the growing momentum of business tourism for the financial edge it brings to the table.
Business tourism has always played an important role in the country’s growth trajectory, as indicated by the 2016 data from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) that states business tourists accounted for around 20 per cent of total visitor spending in the Kingdom when Hajj and Umrah pilgrims were excluded.
Therefore, set in motion by Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan, the country’s goal now is to more than double the number of business travellers and reach the mark of 10 to 11 million visits by 2030.
With its strategic economic framework carefully crafted to reduce dependencies on the oil and gas industries, the Saudi government views tourism as a lucrative sector of development that is estimated to make a 10 per cent contribution to GDP by 2030. To attain this goal, it has been introducing a slew of initiatives to further populate its calendar of international events.
Whether through visa reforms, the launch of a digital strategy, the recently introduced tourism law, or the diversification of its hospitality and leisure infrastructure, the Kingdom is doing everything it can to attract tourists from all over the world. More and more companies across industries now see the Kingdom as a viable option for exhibitions, employee meetings, conferences, and even large-scale events, especially given the current geopolitical situation and improved status quo of the Saudi tourism sector.
While the Kingdom’s tourism landscape is undergoing a significant overhaul, apart from leisure and Hajj and Umrah, which remains its biggest focus, the government is also prioritising executive travellers as well as the thriving meeting, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) segment. This stems from the Kingdom’s aspiration to further strengthen its stance as a hub for business gatherings. The burgeoning number of corporate events held in the Kingdom today demonstrates its desire to gain a competitive edge in the segment.
In H1 2022 alone, the number of licences issued by the Saudi Conventions and Exhibitions General Authority rose by 367 per cent compared to the same period last year, resulting in more than 4,000 exhibitions and conferences held in the country.
In addition, MICE events geared towards entertainment are also poised for growth with the country looking to invest $64 billion into the said sector.
Discover Saudi, the leading and first-if-its-kind Destination Management Company in Saudi Arabia (DMC), completely manages small to large-scale meetings of over 1000 attendees, creating customized itineraries with unique cultural experiences with services starting from hotel bookings to event management. The DMC has supported large-scale events from Dakar Rally to Saudi Cup and beyond.
Business tourism will continue to play a key role in shaping the country’s future of travel. It will also open a floodgate of opportunities not only for local businesses but also for local talent, further solidifying the Kingdom’s economic acceleration and talent transformation journey.
* Tarique Khatri is Executive Vice-President, Inbound and Outbound for Seera Group