Interview: Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
How is the introduction of the “After Umrah” programme likely to impact the contributions of tourism to the Kingdom’s economy?
PRINCE SULTAN BIN SALMAN BIN ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD: The announcement of After Umrah was a great step forward and is something we have been working towards for years at the SCTH. We believe that, given the opportunity, people will come for Umrah, tourism and then perhaps conduct business meetings or attend a trade show. This is a wonderful chance to enjoy a very spiritual experience and then also have an opportunity to trade and create wealth and value. People will be able to more fully experience Saudi Arabia through religion, culture, business, nature and history. They will be able to go to the markets and mosques in the cities and visit the famous early Islamic battlefields.
Also, people will be able to learn about the history of Arabia that came before Islam, which led to Islam. I believe that everything here is the culmination of an important historical moment. By developing all of these different sites and related sectors, we are creating an entire industry that will be a major engine for job creation and will contribute growth throughout the economy. However, the long-term goal is to build the industry and for the SCTH to recede so that the tourism industry can be driven by the private sector.
How is the planning on doubling the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites as outlined by Vision 2030? What opportunities will there be for the private sector in developing these sites?
PRINCE SULTAN: We already have government approval to register 11 more sites and they are already in various stages of the subscription process. However, this is a multi-year approach because you cannot simply submit 10 subscription files from the same country to UNESCO World Heritage Centre at once. We are seeing more visitors coming to the four sites we have. Take the example of the Jeddah historical district: people had given up on this area, but once UNESCO classification happened, confidence came flooding back, which has in turn increased visitor numbers and investment. Also, Al Oula, right next to Madain Saleh, has been successfully developed: there are several boutique hotels coming on-line and we now are designing a museum for the city. Additionally, the Heritage Hotels and Hospitality Company is looking to invest in accommodation in this area through a joint venture with the Public Investment Fund and several private companies. So we are seeing how the government and private sectors can work together to develop these sites. There is a serious need for additional investment, which means that the private sector has an important role to play.
What role is the SCTH playing in helping to improve the quality of local tour operators?
PRINCE SULTAN: When we started there weren’t any real tour operators in Saudi Arabia. We now have many great tour operators – both men and women – that are organising wonderful trips all around the Kingdom. The SCTH has provided these operators with training, support and facilities to increase the quality of their services and packages while also ensuring economic returns by facilitating greater travel. In addition, our programmes such as “Live Saudi”, which brings Saudi students on trips to other regions of the Kingdom, are generating great opportunities for tour operators. Internal travel and programmes like these are important because many people here have not yet really explored their own country. I think that to have stronger feelings towards your country you have to know it better, because a sense of ownership goes with a sense of citizenship. Tourism and national heritage go hand in hand, and we have worked hard to promote both. The most important thing to me is to give people the option to stay and enjoy their own country in order to make that important connection.
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