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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: As part of its endeavor to combat the climate crisis, Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Ministry launched a Global Solutions Hub on the sidelines of the Middle East and North Africa Climate Week on Tuesday.
Spearheaded by the Kingdom’s Sustainable Tourism Global Center, the development is a knowledge center that will keep track of sustainable travel worldwide through research projects, the creation of industry toolkits, and academic discussions.
Speaking to Arab News, STGC Head Gloria Guevara Manzo said the knowledge center is a significant development and could revamp the overall landscape of sustainable travel.
Manzo, also the chief special adviser to the Saudi tourism minister, explained that the hub will act as a catalyst for identifying challenges and producing sustainability solutions.
“We are partnering with more than 20 schools and hope to reach 100 schools before 2030. These are top institutions such as MIT, Stanford, NYU and Harvard, to produce toolkits and solutions,” Manzo told Arab News.
The adviser further gave the example of a solution currently being developed in collaboration with Stanford University which helps reduce food waste among restaurants and cafes that need help identifying their emission levels.
With food waste contributing from 8 to 10 percent of greenhouse emissions globally, Manzo explained that the initiative would help identify challenges among restaurants and find an affordable and applicable tool to quantify their footprint.
“We not only tell them this is the problem, but also this is the solution, and this is how you do it,” she said.
“We’re also releasing some solutions this week, and in the next 12 months, you will see 20 solutions coming out of Riyadh that will help small and medium enterprises, destinations and travelers,” Manzo added.
These solutions go beyond food waste, she explained, adding that projects around water management, plastic reduction and other areas will also be part of the initiative.
On Tuesday, the hub introduced three toolkits focused primarily on the use of solar thermal heaters, emissions reduction through food choices, and cost savings of solar panels.
Commenting on the hub’s launch, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said the knowledge center will provide valuable resources to support stakeholders in making well-informed decisions.
“Our goal is to function as the premier knowledge hub, offering indispensable tools and solutions for key stakeholders, enabled by the Sustainable Tourism Global Center and the Ministry of Tourism in Saudi Arabia. Through these efforts, we aim to empower and support the travel and tourism sector to champion environmental solutions and foster prosperity,” Al-Khateeb said in a statement.
Manzo added that the hub will be a directory for global solutions in the tourism sector and will document all the best practices for stakeholders across the world to benefit.
“We need to document the good cases, and we need to provide solutions for destinations that want to learn from others to have a place to go,” Manzo said.
Additionally, the hub has identified approximately 27 categories of SMEs that stand to gain from its offerings.
“We’re going to have solutions for travelers,” Manzo added, noting that the hub will also provide travelers with instructions on reducing their carbon footprint when vacationing.
The Tourism Ministry also announced a youth forum during the MENA Climate Week, an initiative that is part of its ongoing effort to engage with future generations.
Manzo explained that the goal is to actively collaborate with the global youth, not just Saudi nationals, to integrate them into sustainability initiatives within the tourism sector.
“One of the things that we’re doing is we’ve got around 600 students from 100 countries. This is very important because we are engaging with the youth to be part of the solutions in sustainable tourism,” Manzo told Arab News.
She further mentioned that the ministry is actively engaging with these students to pinpoint their challenges regarding sustainable tourism in their respective countries.
Additionally, it is developing solutions that can be introduced in these countries in collaboration with the youngsters.
This initiative involves students from countries including the Bahamas, the US, the UK and China, with many participants visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time.
“These students are worried about the future of the planet and sustainability. So, we have decided to create a platform to engage with them, to understand their priorities and needs, and to work with them so that they can be part of the solution,” Manzo said.
She noted that previously these students felt their concerns went unheard. However, this platform intends to collaborate closely with them, delving deeper into the challenges of sustainable tourism and seeking solutions.
With 70 percent of the Kingdom’s population aged 35 years and below, Manzo emphasized the importance of such initiatives.
“Engaging with the youth is paramount. They represent the future and our upcoming leaders. The more we collaborate with them and involve them in our solutions, the better,” Manzo said.
Taking place in Riyadh from Oct. 8-12 and sponsored by the Saudi government, the deliberations during MENA Climate Week will contribute to the forthcoming UN climate change conference, or COP28, scheduled in Dubai later this year.
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