With Saudi Arabia set to host the G20 Summit in 2020, the nation has been a key participant in the UNWTO’s ministerial summit at the World Travel Market in London. 

The Kingdom’s mission was headed by His Excellency Mr Ahmad bin Aqil Al Khatib, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

In his speech, Khatib spoke about the importance of the sector for his country, stating, “The tourism industry today is among the most strategic sectors in the Kingdom, where we work on its development and growth in conformity with the Saudi Vision 2030, for which we have ambitious and promising goals and plans for investments in this sector, and through which we seek to receive an annual rate of 100 million visitors and generate one million new jobs by 2030”.

Currently, tourism accounts for 3% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, and the aim is to reach 10% by 2030.

With the summit this year addressing the issue of tourism impact on developing rural communities and areas, the Saudi tourism Chairman reviewed the Kingdom’s approach to developing tourism in such a way as to guarantee the sustainability and protection of rural communities and areas.

“Most countries are aware of the environmental impact of the tourism in cities, which has pushed them to find alternative options through developing their rural communities,” he said.

“In the Kingdom, more than 80% of its population of 34 million people live in cities, however, we in the Kingdom are working on protecting and developing the rural communities on both social and economic levels, through supporting a number of technical and creative solutions,” Khatib said, adding that: “The Saudi rural areas are rich in all that can attract tourists who look for distinguished experiences that combine authenticity and modernisation, where the Kingdom houses around 10,000 archaeological and tourist sites, many of which have been registered on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, such as Al Ola and Al Ihsa’.”

Tourism will be a main subject in several discussions at next year’s G20 in Riyadh, with decision makers and relevant institutions debating ways of sustaining the growth of the sector.

Meanwhile, at the Middle East & Africa Inspiration Zone at WTM, a conference on 5 November, entitled, “Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Investment Plan for the Future” discussed the country’s ambitious plans for sustainable tourism development with a view to leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. The roundtable saw Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority; John Pagano, CEO of The Red Sea Development Company; Majed M. Al Ghanim, Managing Director of Tourism & Quality of Life, Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (SAGIA); and Mark Willis, CEO, AccorHotels MEA addressing a standing-room-only conference area.

Saudi Arabia's Tourism Investment Plan for the Future stage.jpg

Roundtable: Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Investment Plan for the Future

Willis said Accor plans to open 40 hotels in Saudi Arabia in the next four years, bringing the total to more than 75, adding that Saudi Arabia was now the number one destination focus for the group across the Middle East.

At the conference, it was announced that Saudi Arabia was preparing to open the renovated Diriyah old city for visitors in 2020, and is to develop an area roughly the size of Belgium for tourism on its Red Sea coast in what is known as the Red Sea Development Project.

The project will see the development of over 28,000 km2 of pristine land on Saudi Arabia’s west coast and includes an archipelago of more than 90 islands. The destination also features mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes and ancient cultural and heritage sites. The destination will include hotels, residential properties, leisure, commercial and entertainment amenities, as well as supporting infrastructure that emphasises renewable energy and water conservation and re-use.

Activity for the first phase of development, which focuses on enabling the infrastructure to support future work, is well underway. A marine infrastructure contract awarded in July 2019 includes the construction of a 3.3 km crossing to Shurayrah (the main hub) and development has begun at the Coastal Village, which will be home to around 14,000 people who will work at the destination.

Mono island concept 2

Artist’s impression of the Mono Island development – part of the Red Sea Development Project

Development Company chief executive, Pagano said he believes this is the most ambitious tourism project in the world today, explaining that the entire project will be  100% reliable on renewable energy: an objective that has never been reached anywhere in the world on this scale. He added that great care was being put into selecting locations for development in order to have a minimal impact on the environment, citing the most pristine island which would have made a great location for a resort, but due to a nesting colony of a particular species of sea turtles, will not be touched, but will be preserved and protected. Only a small percentage of islands will see any development, he added.