‘Launching E-visa was a significant milestone in the opening up of the Kingdom’
Saudi Arabia, since opening its doors to leisure tourism in September 2019 has introduced many new destinations and experiences for the audience both from home and abroad. Besides this, it has identified 15 priority leisure source markets spanning the GCC region, Asia, North America and Europe, says Saudi Tourism Authority in an exclusive interview with TravelBiz Monitor.
Q. Saudi Arabia wants to move from an oil dependent economy to tourism driven. What efforts are being made in this direction to become a world-class tourist destination?
We aim to achieve 100 million annual visits to the Kingdom by 2030, made up of both domestic and international travellers.
To achieve this goal, we have developed a comprehensive strategy to drive the number of visits, increase spend and to build a leading tourism brand for Saudi.
We have identified 15 priority leisure source markets spanning the GCC region, Asia, North America and Europe. This is broken down further into three target segments, leisure, MICE and spiritual travel.
Since opening our doors to leisure tourism in September 2019, STA has unveiled many new destinations and experiences for audiences from home and abroad.
The campaigns highlight what Saudi has to offer today – its rich culture, deep heritage, diversity of landscapes and unparalleled hospitality. It is the authentic home of Arabia: a place of exploration, of unique experiences. This is what we want the world to discover about Saudi.
Q. In September 2019, the tourist e-visa was introduced. Can you tell us more about the e-visa and any numbers surrounding its launch.
The launch of the e-visa was a significant milestone in the opening up of the Kingdom. From September 2019 to March 2020, we had issued more than 400,000 tourism visas, and we are confident that we will exceed this target once borders re-open.
Visitors from 49 countries are able to apply for the visit visa online, while other nationalities are able to apply for the visa at the Saudi embassy or consulate in their home country.
Q. What is the impact of the on-going pandemic on the tourism sector of Saudi Arabia?
We continue to work closely with the Ministry of Health on health and safety standards. The Ministry has put in place comprehensive protocols for establishments to provide visitors and their families with a safe experience, which are aligned with the guidelines recommended by the WTTC.
• Free healthcare is provided to anyone in Saudi Arabia (citizens and visitors alike) affected by COVID-19
• Tracking and testing apps have been introduced to help people assess their health and manage any quarantine requirements
• The Saudi tourism e-visa process is 100% digital, ensuring the reduction of touchpoints ahead of travel and upon arrivals
Q. In terms of outreach across channel partners and consumers alike, what platforms are being deployed?
We are investing in developing strong relationships with key partners in the travel trade sector in all of our priority source markets.
We are in the process of building a network of international offices, responsible for both trade and consumer marketing activities, to expand the reach and relevance of Saudi’s tourism offer.
Each market will be tasked with developing a tailored, strategic approach to most effectively engage with their target audiences, whether it be workshops, road shows, training, marketing campaign or FAM trips.
Q. What are your expectations from the Indian market?
India really set the standard in destination marketing with its Incredible India brand campaign. And it is amazing to think that campaign will be 20 years old next year. And as the tourism market begins to reopen, India will be one of the most significant source markets in the world.
Q. Tell us a bit about the Saudi Roadshow – what can we expect to see?
As it relates to leisure tourism, Saudi is a relatively new destination.
Our focus is two-fold. While it is fundamental to drive awareness about Saudi amongst travellers around the world, we must also engage, educate and inspire our travel trade partners about the diverse products and experiences that Arabia offers.
The Saudi Roadshow is an opportunity for our partners to meet-one-on-one with senior representatives from key destination, experience and hospitality brands. It is a platform for them to ask questions, build relationships and stimulate conversations around the potential commercial partnership opportunities. This is the first time we are engaging trade at this level. The response to date has been extremely positive, and we look forward to increasing activity to further showcase the Saudi offering.