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‘A great land’: KSA planning for a new era of tourism, says Prince Sultan

Saudi Arabia, July 7, 2018

The listing of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa Oasis as a UNESCO World Heritage site has opened “a big window” for other locations in the Kingdom to gain global attention, according to Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).

Discussing the future of tourism in Saudi Arabia, the prince said curiosity about the Kingdom’s heritage, ancient history and time-honored traditions was growing around the world.
“Al-Ahsa has opened a big window for other sites to gain as much attention as it has,” he said. “The story of our national heritage is part of what Saudi Arabia is, especially today as we go toward the future with big steps.
“I believe that we will stronger, better and more successful people if we understand and believe that we came from a great land,” he told Arab News.
“Thousands of years of civilization and trading with other nations, language development and many of the events that have happened in Arabia have made us the people we are. Nation-building is something the people of Arabia have been doing throughout history. Many ancient civilizations and kingdoms have been built on this great land.
“Now the Saudi people are ready for another development stage. The Kingdom and its people have always been in a stage of movement and development,” he said. The Al-Ahsa region was home to “a rich community in terms of its friendly people, culture, art and nature,” he said
The prince predicted “the sea and the oasis will be one unforgettable experience, with lots of job creation opportunities. Lots of infrastructure enhancements will be conducted. We believe that Al-Ahsa will be a local, regional and international destination.”
Nine more Saudi sites are to be listed by UNESCO, he said. “Next will be Rejal Almaa in the Assir region, an amazing village in the mountains. We have a site elected in each region, and the Kingdom has 13 regions.”
Asked when the first tourist visa will be issued, the prince replied: “I hope it can be done from tomorrow for one main reason: Our globally strong presence causes lots of nations to want to visit the Kingdom. To hear about the Kingdom is totally different from actually experiencing it. However, we hope (the visa decision) will be approved by March. The country is open for business trips, including exhibition and conferences.”
“The tourism commission is establishing different companies, including Saudi Heritage Hospitality Co., in which there are lots of heritage houses to be renovated and represented in a way that will make our country shine proudly,” he said.
The commission has offered educational programs to train and license tour guides. “We created the National Tour Guide Association. It is one of the most active associations.”
Speaking of the Hail region and its tourism assets, the prince said: “Hail has great strengths, including desert, heritage, culture and a big nature zone that can be a safari park. We are cooperating with the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture and they are already conducting a feasibility study to have the first Saudi safari park.”
Another cooperation agreement with the General Sports Authority will build unrivaled sports activities and competitions to encourage local tourism. “The possibility is huge in building training campaigns and sports resorts for national and international sports teams so they can train in Saudi Arabia. Sport is a global industry. Now tourism and sport go hand in hand. We are focused on the tourism of adventures, youth and sports.”
One of the commission’s new plans is to promote the use of English in almost all places that can be visited by tourists. “We have already launched a website that uses highly professional English. We are going through another phase of development. But I promise we will not go for English only — you will see Chinese, Japanese and more.”
The prince said the Kingdom had missed tourism opportunities but was now recovering. “Saudi Arabia will be if not the top, one of the top three destinations in terms of economic returns because we have three markets that no other country has: A local market which is huge; the Makkah Al-Mukarramah and Madinah Al-Munawwarah, with the number of pilgrims is expected to reach 30 million by 2030; and a unique market that is not going to happen anywhere else, a Saudi destination for all Muslims.”

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