Saudi Tourism Authority (STA)is on an incredible journey of transformation with tourism at the forefront and committed to building the world's biggest new destination. The Authority last month participated in SATTE 2022 as premium partner country to create awareness amongst the Indian travel trade. “The feeling is amazing. There is really a good vibe, energy and excitement about Saudi as a destination. We are also extremely thrilled to be working with the trade partners in India because we have prioritized India to be one of the key source markets for Saudi Arabia. So, we are keen to work with tour operators and agencies to let them know about Saudi and what we have to offer,” Alhasan Aldabbagh, Chief Markets Officer – APAC, Saudi Tourism Authority, said in an exclusive interview with T3.
The Authority is working on creating right packages and experiences for the Indian travellers. “We aim to attract a significant number of inbound from India and to ensure that they have the most delightful experience when they come to Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Replying to a question over positioning the Saudi Arabia in the India market as the destination is established as a pilgrimage, Aldabbagh agreed that Saudi has an image of religious destination due to the holy land of Mecca and Medina. “Saudi is the location for the two holy sites and that will always be important. We have made it much easier now for any travel agent or tour operator to book trips to Saudi Arabia for Umrah. Earlier, it was a bit more limited, only for authorized agents. Now, it's a free market. The Umrah Plus package is now being promoted. It is a great way to visit the twin holy cities and experience other cities and parts of the Kingdom. We are now inviting people to extend their stay and explore different parts of Saudi. Also, we have now put a lot of focus on the leisure travel specifically for India. We believe that Indian travellers are going to be targeted to come to Saudi as part of their Middle East plus experience. So, when they go to visit different GCC countries, they also spend a couple of days in Saudi Arabia,” he informed.
Also, there is a lot of Indians who travel to Europe. STA’s strategy is also to have the stop offer program to woo these Europe bond traffic to stop in Saudi on their way. “We're also targeting students. There are about 750,000 Indian students who are living abroad. We also want them to come and visit Saudi on the way to their resident countries,” he said.
This requires a very vibrant air connectivity between the two countries. “Today, as part of the bilateral agreement between India and Saudi, there is 56,000 seats out of which 28,000 seats has already been utilized by airlines such as Saudi airlines, Air India and indigo. We are working on increasing the number of slots and in conversations with Indian airlines to increase those number of flights in the next coming few weeks,” he added.
Saudi is coming up with some mega tourism projects such as The Red Sea Project, Neom, Amaala and Qiddiya with an eye to become amongst the top global destination. “We are investing more than any other destination in the world and developing the infrastructure in the entire ecosystem for tourism. In the next eight years until 2030, we're investing over US$ 800 billion, and this shows the level of commitment and ambition that we have to grow our tourism sector in Saudi today. AlUla, a living museum of preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops, and monuments, is already operational,” he said adding that each one of them offers a different value proposition to attract different consumer or traveler segments.
While developing these projects, Saudi is keeping the sustainability and green as the focus. “Sustainability is not only important but is absolutely necessary to be a major competitor on the global stage. So, all these new projects that are coming up takes sustainability as a key aspect in their design, master planning and development. The plan is to be carbon by 2030 and it seems project is planning also on to have regenerative sustainability to give back to the ecosystem.
Responding to a question over the demand keeping these mega projects in mind, Aldabbagh said that there is enough demand from the international market. “We are we are positioning Saudi to be a leader. We have a different value proposition. Our offering is very diverse. Therefore, we are confident about our ability to achieve these targets,” he said confidently.
Talking more on India, he said that India is a key source market as the country has a thriving outbound market with numbers touching around 27 million. “We are planning to get 20% of this by 2030. This just shows the level of commitment that we have for India. We are in the final stages to create a much more seamless process to obtain visas in India,” he informed.