JEDDAH — Experts have cited five main reasons for the decline of the Kingdom’s tourism sector compared to neighboring countries. Dubai registered five percent growth in tourism in 2016 compared to the previous year, attracting 14.9 million tourists including 1.6 million Saudis.
The five reasons are global economic depression, lack of a specialized fund, absence of an integrated move to solve problems, lack of substantial progress in air, land and marine transport and absence of economic studies that would encourage foreign investors to enter the Saudi market.
Dr. Hashim Al-Namir, tourism expert, emphasized the need for integrated efforts of relevant agencies to develop the Kingdom’s tourism industry and attract more tourists and investment in the sector.
“We need three important factors — good food, a variety of recreational and entertainment programs and services, and tourist accommodation facilities,” he said while highlighting the Kingdom’s huge tourism potentials.
“If we exploit these potentials properly the result would be amazing and Saudi Arabia will become No. 1 tourist destination in the region,” Al-Namir told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
Al-Namir spoke about importance of issuing tourist visas to boost the sector as well as the need to strengthen the quality of tourism with the support of sponsors.
Saudi Arabia’s geographical features such as desert, mountains and coastal areas can woo a large number of tourists to the country. “We have long coasts in the east and west and these areas could be developed for various tourism purposes,” he said.
He also referred to the marvelous heritage sites that are recognized by UNESCO.
He said Saudi missions abroad could promote tourist sites and attractions in the Kingdom. “The millions of pilgrims who come for Haj and Umrah should be allowed to visit the Kingdom’s tourism sites. We should offer special tourism packages to Haj and Umrah pilgrims,” he explained.
“Pilgrims will be interested to visit tourist sites close to Makkah and Madinah if we develop them properly and inform pilgrims about these sites including historical places,” he added.
Abdul Ghani Al-Ansari, another expert, said total occupancy rate of hotels and furnished apartments in Makkah and Madinah reached 70 percent as a result of an increase in the number of pilgrims.
“This is a significant achievement in the back drop of global economic downturn, which has hit several Muslim countries,” Al-Ansari told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
School vacation has increased hotel occupancy but lack of purchasing power has brought down prices, Al-Ansari said. “As a result the revenue of most companies fell 30 percent in 2016 and this was quite natural,” he added.
Al-Ansari, owner of an economic studies office, stressed the importance of promoting attractive tourism programs and packages to woo tourists to the Kingdom, adding that airlines should take initiative for this tourism campaign. The cost would not exceed $1000 for tourists if they come during the middle of the week such as Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
Al-Ansari, who was chairman of the tourism committee at Madinah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also stressed the need to establish more tourism companies, prepare maps of every Saudi city focusing on its tourism and entertainment centers.
“The government should also support tourism societies across the Kingdom and develop new tourism products including rural tourism,” he explained.
Meanwhile a report issued by Dubai showed that the emirate’s tourism sector registered eight percent growth in the last four years, contributing substantially to the gross domestic product.