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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KARACHI: The Saudi Tourism Authority hosted its first networking event in Pakistan this week with the aim to spotlight the Kingdom as a “destination beyond just religious experiences” and invite visitors to see its pristine beauty, cultural diversity and heritage.
Saudi Arabia is a major religious destination with millions visiting Islam’s two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah annually to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. But the Kingdom in recent years has started to promote leisure travel as part of a strategy aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Last year, the Saudi government revised its domestic and international visitor target upwards from 100 million to 150 million by 2030.
“The government has a vision to increase this number by three or 10-fold in the days to come, as per the vision of Vision 2030 by Crown Mohammed bin Salman, and that’s what we are all collectively working on, enhancing this experience,” Dr. Omar Ayoub, assistant general manager at Zamzam.com, a partner of STA, told Arab News after the networking event.
“The main idea of this event was to showcase Saudi Arabia as a destination beyond just the religious experiences, to see the pristine beauty, the culture, the acceptance, inclusion, diversity of products and services that Saudi has to offer … it’s a combination of different experiences that we would like the world to come and see.”
The Saudi government has taken several measures in recent months to improve tourism numbers, such as relaxing visa conditions, including by allowing those with Umrah visas to travel freely around the Kingdom.
Last year, Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, president of Asia-Pacific markets at STA, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia was targeting more than 3.5 million visitors from Pakistan by 2030.
Meanwhile, Riyadh Season attracts large numbers of visitors with activities and experiences in fields such as entertainment, fashion, technology and communication, electronic games, perfumes, fine arts and crafts.
From Oct. 11 last year until now, Riyadh Season events have already attracted more than 12 million visitors. It is one of the major Saudi events to establish new concepts in the world of entertainment and aims to make the capital, Riyadh, the first destination for international entertainment and gastronomy.
Tourism accounts for 2-3 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. However, with investment in the tourism sector, the Kingdom aims to increase the share to 10 percent of GDP by 2030.
Saudi Arabia hopes to open the doors of several tourism-focused projects over the next few years, including the Red Sea project, a high-end development that will feature island and inland resorts.
The Kingdom also plans to turn AlUla and its majestic rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh, the relics of an ancient civilization, into a global tourism destination and eventually attract millions of visitors, local and foreign alike.
AlUla’s development is part of a push to preserve pre-Islamic heritage sites to attract non-Muslim tourists and strengthen national identity.
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