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A dream travel destination for centuries

They include Masjid Al-Haram, Makkah; Masjid e Nabwi, Madinah

By Rashid Hassan / 25 Sep 2014

The incredible land of Saudi Arabia has been a dream travel destination for centuries and millions of people visit the Kingdom each year from around the world to see this wonderful land.

Most of the visitors have historically been Muslims undertaking pilgrimages to perform their religious duty of Haj and Umrah, however, there are others in substantial numbers who come to experience the scenic beauty spread across the beautiful. Of course the citizens and expatriates have been traveling to experience domestic tourism.

Apart from the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, the most favorite and popular destinations of religious tourism in the world with around two million pilgrims performing Haj every year and millions performing Umrah around the year, the Kingdom offers both natural and historical wonders, from the mountain resorts of Taif and Abha, the majesty of ancient Nabatean tombs and the historic Jeddah and Madain Saleh in Madinah province to the multicolored coral reefs of the Red Sea.

Majed bin Ali Al-Sheddi, director general of information and official spokesperson of SCTA, in this context recently pointed out that the number of visitors to the Kingdom, which exceed 14 million in a year, are mostly Haj and Umrah pilgrims, as Haj and Umrah are the two important religious rites that the Kingdom is proud to serve their seekers and saves no efforts in their service.

The others who visit the Kingdom are for the various purposes of work and along with the citizens these residents constitute the visitors for domestic tourism, which is witnessing rapid growth.

A recently released report for 2014 by the Tourism Information and Research Center (MAS), the statistical arm of the SCTA, revealed that the number of domestic tourist trips during the current summer (June to August), were over 5.8 million, compared to 5.5 million tourist trips during the same period last year, registering a growth of 5.4 percent.

The report also said that the expenditure by domestic tourist trips for current summer was over SR6.2 billion, compared to SR 5 billion during the same period last year with a growth rate of 24 percent.

Moreover, the statistical data for the current summer (June to August) indicates that the number of outbound tourist trips have reached 5.5 million with a growth rate of 2 percent.

Moreover, the outbound trips expenditure, as per the report, has exceeded SR 29.6 billion, compared to SR 22.3 billion for the same period in 2013, registering a growth rate of 32.7 percent.

Furthermore, with the ongoing multi-sectoral rapid developments under the visionary leadership of Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the Kingdom has entered a new phase of comprehensive development with focus on travel and tourism sector under the able leadership Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of SCTA, with the tourism commission entering a new stage of comprehensive tourism development, through which it focuses on a number of vital sectors and job and investment opportunities at its forefront.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council projections, the Saudi travel and tourism sector has the potential to generate an income of more than $48 billion (SR180 billion) by 2022.

Commenting on domestic tourism Al-Sheddi underlined, “As SCTA strongly believes that the most important tourism that it should focus on is the domestic tourist, it persistently seeks

to meet its aspirations and is committed to provide highly integrated tourism experience in a manner that suits the Kingdom’s status, name and displays the level of its progress.”

He asserted that thousands of expatriates of different nationalities also constitute an important tourism market.

Meanwhile, in a major step forward to develop geo-tourism in the Kingdom, Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) joined with the SCTA to review the list of geological sites in the Kingdom

and work out a comprehensive formula on it and the two government agencies have begun work to determine a number of sites for development under the geological tourism project.

Geo-tourism is a kind of tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents and in tourism industry parlance it is considered as a niche market and significantly growing at the global level.

SCTA explored the international experiences for utilizing them in the development of geo-tourism in the Kingdom, as the tourism sector is witnessing unprecedented growth and handsomely contributing to the national GDP and job market with new opportunities for the Saudi youth.

This new dimension of tourism is under serious consideration to take the tourism sector to new highs by transforming deserts in the Kingdom from empty wastelands into a source of revenue generation and employment opportunities.

Commenting on geo-tourism, Osama Al-Khelaiwi, director general of tourism sites development, SCTA, recently said: “Development of geo-tourism is a strategic goal for SCTA as it has promising future and indeed a source for domestic and international tourism in the Kingdom.”

According to him two projects will be selected as model and a nucleus for the development of geological tourism in the short term and also will locate a geological site for registration

in the UNESCO’s list as the first geological park in the Kingdom.

Notably, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in a report recently announced that Saudi deserts have a huge potential and appeal when it comes to environmental and geo-tourism.

“For a country like Saudi Arabia, where a huge segment of its geographical area is covered by desert, there is great potential to develop geological tourism,” the world tourism body said.

Interestingly, according to the annual report of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) for 2012-2013, the tourism sector is set to create about 1.3 million jobs by 2015 and about 1.8 million by 2020, offering direct employment opportunities in its sub-sectors and indirect jobs in areas induced by tourism-related activity.

The 49th SAMA report released recently said: “The SCTA evaluation has confirmed the tourism sector’s ability to provide a growing number of direct jobs in the tourism sub-sectors as well as indirect employment opportunities induced by tourism activity in other economic sectors linked to the tourism sector, in addition to job opportunities that could be developed in subsequent periods as a result of the economic spending cycle in all the sectors that are related to tourism development.”

The report also refers to the SCTA’s efforts in the development of the hotel sector, as the number of hotels operating in the Kingdom by the end of 2012 reached 1,098 of different grades, and the number of furnished residential units in the Kingdom by the end of 2012 reached 1,971, distributed across various cities in the Kingdom.

The biggest share of these are found in the Makkah province reaching 522 units (26.5 percent), followed by the Riyadh region (26.3 percent) with 519 units.

Significanlty, in order to promote local tourism SCTA has come together with the commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) to strengthen ethical part and work for the rapid development of the tourism sector by jointly working on ways to enhance cooperation and integrating efforts in the tourism events and festivals across the Kingdom and has signed agreements with several public funds such as the Saudi Credit and Saving Bank, the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, Agricultural Development Fund, Centennial Fund and the Human Resource Development Fund to finance the tourism medium and small enterprises.

The cooperation between SCTA and the Saudi Credit and Saving Bank and a number of other funds have resulted in the financing of a number of tourism and heritage projects worth over SR250 million.

They include Masjid Al-Haram, Makkah; Masjid e Nabwi, Madinah; Entertainment cities boosting local cities; Scenic beauty of Abha; Resort city of Taif; Historic Jeddah; and A collage on Saudi Tourism


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