Explainer: How has Saudi’s tourismsector coped with the Covid-19 crisis?
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Explainer: How has Saudi’s tourism sector coped with the Covid-19 crisis?

Explainer: How has Saudi’s tourism sector coped with the Covid-19 crisis?

The kingdom is investing more in tourism infrastructure than any country in the world today, opines Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO, Saudi Tourism Authority

How has Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector handled the pandemic?
Partnerships have been at the heart of Saudi’s mitigation and recovery programmes across the hospitality ecosystem, including close collaboration between the private and public
sectors to create new and innovative ways of working together. At the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), it has been our role to create a framework for the ecosystem to support local businesses in the private sector in the wake of Covid-19.

Over the past 12 months, our summer and winter domestic campaigns supported the local travel and tourism sector and provided opportunities for growth and development, even during the international lockdown. Throughout the Saudi Summer campaign, which ran between June and September 2020, average hotel occupancy was at nearly 50 per cent, with
peak occupancy for some destinations at almost 100 per cent.

Despite increasing visitation to target destinations by more than 30 per cent year on year, our comprehensive approach to traveller safety meant that we did not see a corresponding spike in Covid-19 cases. STA continues to work with Saudi’s hospitality players, to provide the tools, learning and insights they need to increase their business opportunities.

Has this year been better than 2020 – so far?
While borders have remained closed, our key focus has been on building a solid foundation to welcome guests back into the kingdom.

Our opportunity is unique. Saudi is a new leisure destination on the global stage. We are the authentic home of Arabia – a bold claim – but founded in multiple touchpoints and experiences, from our people and stories, to our hospitality and beautiful, iconic locations around the country.

We are in the process of developing an international network, a global community dedicated to driving awareness about Saudi and all the beauty, diversity and hidden treasures the destination has to offer.

In 2021, we have successfully launched a domestic winter and an international brand awareness campaign, reaching audiences in 26 countries and 13 languages – our biggest such marketing initiative ever. We launched our ‘Tourism Shapers’ programme, a new initiative to equip the local private sector with the support needed to navigate and manage the evolving tourism landscape.

We also engaged the international tourism trade through our ‘Journeys in Arabia’ programme, which introduced travel and tourism companies around the world to the experiences that make Saudi a unique destination. Amid the uncertainty that the past year has brought us, our strategy has been developed with one objective in mind: to achieve 100 million annual visits to Saudi by 2030, made up of both domestic and international travellers.

Saudi will continue to invest in developing new destination projects to support the local tourism ecosystem.

The kingdom has pushed for increased domestic tourism – have you seen that taking off?
The tourism sector is thriving, driven by Saudi’s domestic market. Our launch of ‘Saudi Summer’ in 2020, a campaign designed to encourage Saudi nationals and residents to discover their own country, played a key role in supporting the local tourism industry.

As the largest domestic tourism campaign in Saudi history, we saw a 33 per cent increase in spend on hotels, restaurants and recreation/cultural activities compared to the same period in 2019. Domestic tourism represents a huge opportunity for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is investing more in tourism infrastructure than any country in the world today, not only in the large signature projects like the Red Sea project, Qiddiya and Amaala, but also in training, skills building, visitor experience management and, of course promotion.

Our activities are encouraging more Saudis than ever before to explore their own country and inspiring more and more young people to consider careers in the sector.

Any particular segment within the industry that is faring better than the others/has more potential?
While countries around the world adopt new strategies to return to normalcy, the global appetite to travel, explore and seek adventure outdoors has increased. Travellers are rethinking how they want to spend their vacation time and are considering visiting bucket-list attractions and lesser-known, less crowded destinations.

Saudi has an incredible range of diverse landscapes and experiences. Part of the beauty of Saudi is the unexpected. Dramatic mountain areas, lush valleys, sweeping desert dunes and pristine untouched coastlines perfectly meet the needs of the post-Covid traveller.

And for those travellers keen to pair nature and the outdoors with new discoveries, Saudi’s top sites offer rich culture and heritage experiences that are authentically Arabian. From snorkelling among the unspoiled coral reefs of the Saudi Red Sea, to exploring more than 100 tombs dating back to the Nabataean era in AlUla, there is something for every adventure seeker and cultural explorer in Saudi.

Looking ahead, when do you expect Saudi’s tourism sector to recover? And where is it headed longer-term?
Saudi introduced the first international tourism e-visa in September 2019. By March 2020, we had issued more than 400,000 tourism visas, clearly demonstrating an innate curiosity in the kingdom and demand in visitation amongst a global audience.

When travel safely resumes and borders reopen, we are confident we will see a surge in leisure arrivals once again.

In the meantime, we will continue to use our time to proactively prepare for visitors to return. We will engage our global trade partners, empower and upskill the local private sector and support the development of the wider ecosystem so that we have a healthy, safe and robust tourism sector for tomorrow.

There is so much about Saudi for the world to discover. We are ready and we look forward to welcoming our guests safely back into the kingdom.

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