In a presentation dedicated to development opportunities in Saudi Arabia on the first day of the fifth Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), president and board chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, said a new national tourism plan scheduled for publication by year end would focus on opening up employment opportunities for nationals and enterprise initiatives for small to medium-sized private sector companies.
Long term vision for the country’s hospitality sector estimates visitor numbers will nearly double from 47 million in 2008 to 88 million by 2020, while the number of hotel rooms would rise from 117,097 to 254,310 apartment units would increase from 101,544 to 185,853 – and employment in the industry is set to grow from 1.1 million to 1.5 million.
“I think the numbers will be even more than these (prudent) estimates,” he said. “Tourism touches every service provider – for example, the government has approved bank financing to process loans to fund heritage projects (for small and medium size enterprises), and we will announce a national crafts and heritage industry plan to incubate projects in this sector.
“We have a major programme for human resource development as we see tourism as a major job creator,” he said, adding that a fifth hotel training college will be established at Taif.
Prince Sultan stressed that development in the Kingdom was responding to demand from the domestic market and that the emphasis in the next two years would be to fulfil this need rather than cultivate overseas visitor markets: “More than $10bn is spent by Saudi Arabians on travelling overseas … but they are now eager to spend a good part of their holidays at home,” he said.
“We aimed to capture five percent of this but with the trend to ‘holiday at home’, this could be bigger – there is a large gap between supply and demand with areas such as weekend traffic showing major growth potential.”
To fulfil this demand, Prince Sultan pointed to the major developments already underway in the Kingdom: “In Jeddah alone, there is a project with Solidere to redevelop the historic centre while we have 17km of untouched beachfront in the city centre,” he said.
“We are working on the historic ports of the Red Sea and the railway connecting western Saudi Arabia to the east coast. The Red Sea will be one of the biggest growth areas with up to 21 new destinations – indeed, we will announce at least one or two of these new projects by the end of this year.”
Other major initiatives include the Al Uqair project in the Eastern Province, the Farasan Islands in Jizan Province where one of five new airports is planned, and Taif, site of another new airport plus the Souk Okaz project with heritage and meeting facilities.
To diversify the tourism product, Prince Sultan said other initiatives included the launch of eco-lodges and farm hotels, as well as heritage accommodation: “We have already started licensing several projects in these areas, and are talking to some of the major hotel chains about this side of things,” he added.
Underlining the potential for tourism development in Saudi Arabia, Prince Sultan said the economy had not slowed, despite the global downturn: “Our government budget in 2009 is the biggest ever in order to keep projects on-stream with an unsurpassed expansion of the infrastructure. Our economy is based on factors that make it more resilient to fluctuations (worldwide).
“We are sure that hotel investment will be one of the biggest growth areas in Saudi Arabia as tourism is accepted on the national agenda,” he concluded.
The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference runs from May 2-4, 2009 at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah Convention Centre and is jointly organised by The Bench and MEED.
Details can be found on www.arabianconference.com
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