Interview: Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

To what extent can pilgrims coming to the Kingdom for Hajj and Umrah be encouraged to combine leisure tourism with these religious events?

PRINCE SULTAN BIN SALMAN BIN ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD: In 2014 we are opening up the “Umrah plus” programme. Now, in the first phase, people from 65 selected countries will be linked with Umrah companies that are qualified as tour companies. The idea is to encourage people to stay here for longer periods of time, exploring more of the Kingdom and its many offerings. We are doing this not only for economic reasons, but also for the benefit of Muslims who have come to the land of Islam to see where Islam was born.

We are now developing Islamic history sites and museums such as the birthplace of the Quran in Medina, the Islamic Battles Museum through the Ministry of Defence, and tours in the mountains surrounding Makkah. These initiatives will allow visitors to have the most complete and fulfilling experience possible when visiting Saudi Arabia.

What steps are being taken to boost tourism offerings and increase the employment of Saudi nationals within the sector?

PRINCE SULTAN: Tourism as an industry, if properly supported by the government, has the potential to be the biggest job creator in the Kingdom’s economy for Saudi nationals. Since this is a priority for the government, we believe the tourism sector is well positioned for strong future growth. We are already seeing changes being made to reflect this, such as improved funding for tourism services and heritage sites, especially these last two years. This can be a big job creator across all levels – education, age group, gender and location. Tourism already has the second highest rates of Saudiisation of all the business sectors in the Saudi economy. What made the rapid Saudiisation of the tourism sector possible is that it is a service industry, and thus attractive to Saudis, who by nature are hospitable and friendly people. We also believe that since this sector is very attractive for private investment, we expect a great deal of this job growth to be driven by the expansion of small and medium-sized enterprises.

What is being done to both preserve and promote the Kingdom’s various historical sites?

PRINCE SULTAN: The preservation, restoration and promotion of our heritage sites will be key to developing the tourism industry. This will require not only developing the sites themselves, but creating the services and infrastructure around them to support the visitors coming to the area. By doing this we are bringing economic value to the surrounding communities by improving local infrastructure, supporting local businesses and creating jobs. The SCTA is partnering with local authorities to develop these sites and the surrounding services as drivers for tourism and therefore economic growth. Over SR1bn ($266.6m) will be spent by the municipalities alone on infrastructure and in joint venture projects with the SCTA to develop these sites. There are 16 heritage cities under development, which means money is being spread across the Kingdom.

How is policy being developed to encourage the private sector to work with the SCTA to develop the Kingdom’s tourism offering?

PRINCE SULTAN: One important step we recently took was requiring companies looking to get a licence within any one of the 11 sectors which we oversee, i.e. accommodation, tour operators, etc., to go through an induction programme. The Saudi economy has long suffered from throwing licences and money at people who had no idea what to do with them. This new initiative ensures that they spend their money wisely and successfully. These programmes will create much more intelligent investors and encourage them to become more involved stakeholders who want to expand the industry. The government needs to be a responsible regulator and through initiatives such as this we can help the private sector make the most of the abundant opportunities the Saudi tourism industry presents.