Interview: Abdullah Al Dawood
What economic contribution do you expect tourism to play in the Kingdom’s future, and what employment opportunities do you envisage?
ABDULLAH AL DAWOOD: Religious tourism, through the Hajj and the Umrah, will play a critical role in economic growth and prosperity over the next decade under the Saudi Vision 2030 development plan. The government has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades to increase the Kingdom’s capacity to accommodate pilgrims. These investments in railways, airports, accommodation and the expansion of the holy mosque will form the basis for economic cross-over. What is now required for the private and the public sides is to reap the benefits of these infrastructure investments and start generating returns, whether from the inflow of tourists and pilgrims or from the creation of employment opportunities.
What steps are being taken to boost domestic tourism, and which subsectors will be most likely to encourage Saudis to travel within the Kingdom?
AL DAWOOD: There are many ongoing activities, some having been announced by the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and outlined in Vision 2030. These include developing the local entertainment industry, lead by the newly formed General Authority for Entertainment, which will play a key role in convincing Saudis to stay in the Kingdom rather than travel to other GCC countries for these activities. This sector is almost non-existent right now, but will receive support from various public and private organisations. We look forward to the new policies and initiatives from the new body as they will play a big part in helping the industry to flourish. Other initiatives are being carried out by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage in developing heritage and museum offerings. So we are seeing a lot of activities from the government in creating the environment to establish domestic tourism. I hope that the private sector, in partnership with the public sector, will build on these initiatives.
What is being done to ensure there are enough staff to keep up with the expansion in hospitality?
AL DAWOOD: I think hospitality will see huge growth in the number of jobs and, most importantly, those for young Saudis. Most will come from hotels in Makkah, Medina and Jeddah. The government has established tourism colleges and institutions in universities, and the private sector is setting up training facilities for young Saudis hoping to join the hospitality market. It will be a major area for job growth in the Kingdom.
How can Saudi Arabia draw more GCC nationals?
AL DAWOOD: Saudi Arabia is already a key destination for GCC nationals as it has the two holy mosques in Makkah and Medina, so many travel here for Hajj and Umrah. In the summers, unlike other GCC countries, there are cool, comfortable destinations in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the mountains from Taif to Abha. These places are attractive, especially for those who want to spend the summer in a conservative manner matching their values, but with nice weather and scenic environment. We should leverage this.
How is “digital disruption” transforming the travel industry, and how should operators adapt?
AL DAWOOD: We are seeing this transformation happening, so it is important for operators to embrace innovation rather than fight it. We have invested in travel platforms such as Careem, a car dispatching service app, Almosafer, an online hotel booking service, and online flight booking service Tajawul. These technologies allow operators to offer superior service and find the best rates. Advanced data-driven features enable greater personalisation and quicker, more convenient service. This is why online service is growing at many times the rate of traditional service.
You have reached the limit of premium articles you can view for free.
Choose from the options below to purchase print or digital editions of our Reports. You can also purchase a website subscription giving you unlimited access to all of our Reports online for 12 months.
If you have already purchased this Report or have a website subscription, please login to continue.