RIYADH: As the travel and tourism industry has a critical role to play in the recovery of the global economy following the pandemic, Saudi Arabia is leading the way through collaboration and investment in the sector, a senior minister has confirmed.
As world leaders gathered at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih said his ministry and the Public Investment Fund support the tourism sector as it is part of the diversification strategy of the Kingdom.
“We are investing in it for the greater good. Obviously, the impact it has on the status of the country is very big,” he said during an appearance on a panel discussion.
He said the industry accounts for a double-digit proportion of the global gross domestic product and that the sector impacts all aspects of the economy.
“We saw during the pandemic if the sector loses, everybody loses — society loses, the macro economy loses, and the ripple effect is pretty incredible,” he said, adding that one should not measure the sector only by macro numbers of 10. 12, or 15 percent of GDP.
Despite the perception that travel and tourism is a difficult industry and was among the last to recover from the pandemic, the minister countered that it is a sector where money can be made, regardless of where one is positioned in the value chain.
Speaking on the same panel, Princess Haifa Al Saud, the Kingdom’s Deputy Minister of Tourism, emphasized the need for collaboration as the tourism industry recovers from the pandemic.
“It means that we must all have one vision, set clear goals and work together to achieve them – which is what we are doing today in Saudi Arabia,” she said, adding that this is why the Kingdom is the economy with the fastest growing of the G20 countries for tourism, with a 121 percent increase according to the UN World Tourism Organization.
She revealed that during the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia was the first country to bring the public and private sectors to the table to address post-pandemic issues.
The deputy minister said that the government was amending its regulations and policies according to the needs of the industry after receiving feedback from the private sector.
“For example, the criteria for hotel classifications that we launched three years ago are being modified based on feedback from the private sector, as we understand that one size does not fit all,” she said.
The princess also revealed that through ease of doing business, the government will launch 28 initiatives this year to ease the investor’s journey.
UN World Tourism Organization Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili, who was also part of the discussion, said that two years ago no one knew when the world would recover from the pandemic.
“People were saying we’d recover in 2027; some of them were saying 2023. But the first nine months of this year showed 700 million travelers returning. That’s 65% of the best year we’ve had had in 2018-19,” he said. said.
Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano agreed that anyone with questions about the resilience of travel has had those questions answered. “The speed with which he recovered his ride was remarkable,” he said.
But he stressed that the recovery has been uneven, adding: “In many markets around the world, we have seen an extraordinarily strong recovery. The opening of borders was the catalyst for this recovery. But looking at the China Sea, the zero-Covid policy has continued to dampen the recovery in a significant way.”
Investments in tourism
Many countries, when working on their post-recovery plan, have chosen to spend first on sectors other than tourism, a trend that Saudi Arabia bucked.
According to Greg O’Hara, founder and senior managing director of Certares, the Kingdom is absolutely committed to investing in its own tourism infrastructure and argued that the world will change as all developing nations become richer.
“Where they will travel and how they will travel will be completely different. Saudi Arabia is making a bet on itself and the rest of the world has to deliver to travelers,” O’Hara said.