Challenges ahead for Saudi Arabia if it wants tourism to grow further

Challenges ahead for Saudi Arabia if it wants tourism to grow further
A report puts forth that the country has two key areas it must improve upon; perception and infrastructure
Published: 13 November 2019 - 7:15 a.m.
By: Josh Corder

A recent report has outlined the growth of Saudi’s tourism industry but it has also highlighted some key issues the kingdom must resolve to make itself as attractive as it can to international visitors.

A report titled ‘Decoding the Saudi Arabian Travel and Tourism Industry’ presented by SkiftX and Seera, has put together the hurdles Saudi must get past.

The report puts forth that the country has two key areas it must improve upon; perception and infrastructure.

Perception

As Saudi ushers in its new tourism industry, it has been relaxing a number of long-standing conservative rules in the kingdom.

Unmarried couples visiting the kingdom can now share a room, wearing an abaya is optional and a number of other changes have been made to make the country more modern.

“There is a lot of buzz about Saudi Arabia around relaxing some of its rules and restrictions, and living here, we can see things changing to open the country for more tourism,” said Kamran Khan, managing director at AIM Restaurant Consultancy and Marketing. “A lot has actually been done in recent times that shows the leadership’s commitment to growing the travel and tourism economy in Saudi Arabia.

Even with that, the report claims there’s still work to be done if the country wishes to become more appealing to an international audience.

As time moves on and a number of other policies are relaxed, the report predicts tourism will improve further. The report hails Saudi's current and future changes, making the destination more familar for international visitors.

Infrastructure

Another barrier the country should break down according to the report is its infrastructure. The report notes that popular areas such as Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam are all well-connected but lesser known areas of Saudi need improvement.

“One of the largest barriers to [growing travel and tourism] is that infrastructure on the ground is completely new and limited,” according to Oliver Martin, partner at Twenty31 Consulting Inc., a destination development and sustainability strategist. The average Saudi likely only speaks Arabic, and communicating effectively with international consumers can become a bit of a challenge as Saudi looks to attract more non-religious travellers.”

Infrastructure however doesn’t just refer to the physical framework and organisational abilities of Saudi, it also refers to ‘human capital’ also. The report discusses that the kingdom must also work to diversify the skill set of workers in the country’s hospitality industry.

“Investment in human resources for the travel and tourism industry in Saudi Arabia must expand to not just have more trained people but to also have people with diverse skills,” Ross McAuley, vice president of marketing for Seera Group said. “Saudi Arabia currently has more ticketing agents than travel advisors and making sure that more Saudis are trained for jobs in hospitality, travel, and tourism is a good thing.”

Though these issues are prevalent according to the report, Saudi’s tourism economy is still improving. Between 2009 and 2018 travel and tourism alone boosted Saudi’s GDP by 4.64%, amounting to approximately US$ 2.89 billion. The country has also seen its visitor spending jump by almost 40% in the last nine years.

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