The coronavirus pandemic could wipe up to $1.2 trillion off the world’s tourism industry and cost 100 million jobs globally, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Saudi Arabia is going to great length to attract tourism funds, albeit from inside the Kingdom’s residents.
Cities across Saudi Arabia have experienced surges in their domestic tourism markets rather than international visitors since the country encouraged residents to explore their own country as a holiday spot.
The “Saudi Summer” season initiative titled “Tanaffus” (Breathing), which runs from June 25 to September 30, aims to attract Saudis and expatriates to various tourist destinations across the Kingdom.
According to Jeddah-based Saudi Gazette, Tabuk, Al-Baha, Asir, and Makkah have seen a ‘huge flow’ of tourists. A large number of tourists also are flocking to other major destinations such as the Red Sea coastal town of Umluj, summer tourist attractions of Taif, Abha, Al-Baha, and Al-Namas.
COVID-19 under control
In April, Saudi’s tourism minister told Reuters the sector could see a 35%-45% decline this year due to measures taken by the government to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
But these same precautions have helped increase trust in containing COVID-19 in the country.
From August 1 until August 21, five major tourist destinations recorded a low number of Coronavirus cases compared to their population, none exceeding 50 cases on a daily basis.
Umluj, famous for its beautiful white-sand beaches and pristine waters, recorded daily between 22 and zero cases similar to Al-Baha, which has picturesque natural scenes. Al-Namas, which is also distinguished by its mountainous rural nature, recorded between 15 and zero cases per day.
In Taif and Abha, which are the most populated of these five cities, the daily cases ranged between 5 and 50.
In that August period, Saudi is also recording a decrease in the number of active and critical cases, from more than 37,000 cases and 2000 critical ones to about 24,000 active cases and less than 1,700 critical.
What staycationers want
The campaign launch follows a Saudi Tourism Authority research (STA) revealing that 57% of Saudi residents are concerned about traveling on holiday by plane, but 85% are still planning to take a break of around ten days this year. About 78% expressed curiosity in exploring their own country as well for reasons mostly related to confidence in the health measures and the number of attractive venues.
Together, these locations offer fertile valleys, quiet beaches, dense forests, cool climates, mountain peaks, buzzing cities, historic villages, and more. Travelers are encouraged to visit multiple destinations to take advantage of the different packages and activities available, from sea trips and diving to museum visits and hiking.
STA’s main role is to position the Kingdom as one of the leading tourism destinations in the world.
Saudi Arabia is prioritizing the tourism sector’s growth in light of the challenges facing the industry worldwide and has announced a $4 billion tourism development fund that will serve this purpose.
A promising deal for international travels
Saudi Arabia has agreed with one of Europe’s biggest hotel groups, Accor, to expand and operate a resort at the $20 billion Al-Ula tourism project in the kingdom’s northwestern region, the Royal Commission for the project said.
Al-Ula, the site of an ancient civilization in a remote northwestern corner of the country, is part of Saudi plans to diversify its economy away from oil.
The agreement would see Accor operate an expanded Ashar Resort under the Banyan Tree brand, with 47 new units bringing the resort’s total capacity to 82 high-end villas, along with a spa and several gourmet restaurants, a commission statement said.
The project is located in the Ashar valley, 15 km from the Kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Hegra.
It plans an official opening to the world as a year-round destination in October 2020, according to Reuters.