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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Nearly half of those surveyed for a recent YouGov poll in Saudi Arabia said they intended to travel internationally in 2021 once travel restrictions were lifted in May.
The president of travel services firm Kanoo Travel said he was optimistic about the future of the industry as a result, despite the ups and downs that the sector had experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We at Kanoo are here for the long run,” Nabeel Kanoo told Arab News. “We are quite optimistic about the tourism and travel sector in Saudi Arabia, and it’s only going to get much better.”
While the global situation meant that interest in international travel waned significantly over the past year, domestic travel increased by 11 percent since the beginning of the pandemic, leading travel companies in the Kingdom to reevaluate, reassess, and use the knowledge they had acquired to provide clients with better services.
“For us at Kanoo, like all the other major organizations in Saudi Arabia, we have gone through a difficult but interesting time during COVID,” he said. “It gave us time to relook at ourselves, realign ourselves and try to be better focused for the future. It was difficult in the beginning because nobody knew what was happening or how to react. I don’t think anybody was really prepared for it. But I feel that we took certain tough steps. We had to let people go, of course, which was quite sad because it is of no fault of theirs. But this is the way it is.”
A recent study from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) found that almost one-third of destinations worldwide remained completely closed to international visitors.
International tourist arrivals fell by a billion, or 74 percent, in 2020, according to the UNWTO, which called it the “the worst year in tourism history” and cost the sector $1.3 trillion in lost revenue.
Kanoo said the pandemic had demanded the business be more aggressive and “bullish” in how to move forward.
“We have had to adapt to the new ways, which we have done very well. Everyday there are new statistics, new ideas. At Kanoo, we have started to look internally on how we can better ourselves in many aspects, especially with our clients, with our suppliers and with us as a business. I think the future is based on the statistics and information we are getting.”
Like almost every sector, Kanoo said there was an accelerated move toward doing business online. “This pandemic brought to light the strength of online booking, so many people are now going to start booking things online, on applications, and we as an organization have already started to adapt to the new wave of how people travel.”
He added that, despite the new norms, there would always be an opportunity to cater to international travelers. “People will always want to travel from a tourism point of view. People will want to get out and visit foreign countries. As for the sector itself, I think you will see some new players in the market and also some old players just not being able to survive the pandemic.”
Kanoo Travel was launched in the late 1930s alongside the rise of Bahrain’s aviation industry. It was the first IATA member agency in the Gulf Cooperation Council and has grown to become the largest travel company in the Middle East. It has partnerships in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Lebanon, the UK and France and more than 1,445 travel specialists across the region.
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