Saudi Arabia is continuing its efforts to win over more domestic tourists while promoting its wealth of Islamic culture internationally. Towards this end tourism chiefs are turning towards its youth and perhaps even social to media, to help market and promote its attractions.
Last December, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) President Prince Sultan bin Salman, held a youth forum in Riyadh aimed at getting young Saudis more involved in the tourism industry.
More than 200 young men and women attended the forum in addition to senior SCTA executives and officials, during which the SCTA formed “consultative youth groups” of seven to 10 members each in different regions, on Prince Sultan’s directives to involve young Saudi men and women in tourism initiatives.
The SCTA said it would seek their input on local tourism projects as well as ideas on how to market tourist programmes such as tours to historical sites.
SCTA expects the groups to contribute to developing curricula for tourism training, setting out criteria for employing Saudis in the industry and how to promote a “culture of tourism in Saudi society”.
Interestingly, one of the recommendations from the groups called on the SCTA to start using Facebook and Twitter for its tourist initiatives.
Prince Sultan recently said that Saudis were becoming more receptive to tourism and as such the kingdom’s cultural heritage needed to be “comprehensively developed in the wake of the increasing popularity of domestic tourism”.
“The SCTA is ready to tackle different issues and difficulties that face tourism, antiquities and urban heritage development,” he was quoted as saying by the Arab News newspaper.
He also said that the SCTA was ready, willing and capable of running and “developing new sectors” that have been lately added to its responsibilities.
Domestic tourism is believed to currently account for seven per cent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the SCTA held an exhibition in Germany highlighting its wealth of archaeological wealth and historical and cultural Islamic attractions.
Titled ‘Saudi Archaeological Masterpieces through the Ages,’ the exhibition was held at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, and opened by Prince Sultan himself.
First held at the Louvre museum in Paris in 2010, and being held across Europe and America, the exhibition highlights Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage as the birthplace of Islam and has attracted more than one million visitors since its launch in France.
The Berlin show included 400 artefacts - from the National Museum in Riyadh, the King Saud University’s museum, the King Abdul Aziz Darat and other museums – covering a period from the Stone Age to the present day.
Meanwhile, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) recently set up a marketing council to help sell the city as a tourist destination both locally and internationally.
JCCI chairman Sheikh Saleh Kamel said the council will initially market Jeddah within the kingdom and other GCC states before launching an international campaign.
As part of its initiatives, the council launched a one-month shopping festival on January 18 with participating shops and outlets offering discounts of up to 70 per cent.
The council brief is also to attract major regional and international conferences, exhibitions and festivals to the Red Sea city.
Saudi Arabia is expected to attract 15.8 million tourists by 2014, up from around 13 million in 2010, according to international industry consultant Business Monitor International (BMI). The kingdom’s hospitality sector will grow in tandem, with some 381,000 new hotel rooms expected by 2015, representing 63 per cent of additional room stock against 2010 inventories, driven by, business, religious and domestic tourists, BMI said.
In terms of its 2011 performance, benchmarking agency STR Global reports that the kingdom recorded positive results in three key areas of occupancy, rate and RevPar despite the Arab Spring. Occupancy levels rose by 8.6 per cent to 58.2 per cent, while RevPar grew by an impressive 17.4 per cent to $120 and average daily rates increased by 8.1 per cent to reach $206.
Saudi Arabia aims to attract 88 million tourists by 2020 as it focuses on developing religious tourism and business travel. Religious tourism remains the main reason for overseas visitors to Saudi Arabia. More than half of all inbound visitors travel to Makkah and Madinah, making it a major focus for investment in hotels and related projects.
The kingdom issued 9.5 million religious visas last year, up 11.3 per cent from 2010, according to the Ministry of Hajj website, with Umrah visas rising by one million in 2011 from 2010. Nearly two million foreign pilgrims arrived to perform Haj last year.
Saudi Arabia is also undertaking major infrastructure initiatives to provide better services to pilgrims including expanding the Grand Mosque in Makkah as well as its airports in Jeddah and Madinah.