Mideast capitalizes on tourism opportunities to drive regional growth 

RIYADH: For decades, the Middle East relied on its economic success by cashing in on its rich natural resources, such as oil. But now, the region has veered from the path to building a tourism industry using its soft power of culture and nature. 

“We are blessed to be the first region in Saudi Arabia to have an approved strategy by the government out of the 13 provinces, and all measures to protect nature and the culture (of the Kingdom) are underway,” said Prince Turki bin Talal, chairman of Aseer Development Authority, while speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Riyadh on Tuesday. 

The authority has been under the spotlight since last September when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a strategy to develop the Aseer region into a global tourism destination highlighted as the “Arabian Highland” by investing SR50 billion ($13.3 billion). 

“The idea is to make Aseer a great place to live, not just to visit. So, whoever comes here comes back again. That’s really our desire,” said Prince Turki. 

The enthusiasm is palpable in Oman, a nation investing in human capital development to drive tourism in the country and the entire region. 

“There are a number of Omanis working in Qatar for the World Cup and also in the hospitality sector. They have been trained in Oman with an international curriculum. We are developing them for the country and helping the region,” said Hashil Al Mahrouqi, CEO of Oman Tourism Development Co. 

On the other hand, Bahrain is geared up for its cruise tourism as it expects more than 50,000 tourists to visit the country in the six months until May next year as part of the 2022-2023 cruise season. 

Cruise tourism represents an integral part of the nation’s 2022-2026 strategy to promote Bahrain’s status as a global tourism hub. 

“We have done very well in creating those unique tourism offerings that leave Bahrain with a story to tell,” said Fatima Al Sairafi, Minister of Tourism, Bahrain. 

In fact, the Red Sea is opening the floodgates of tourism opportunities in the region, with countries collaborating to draw global tourism traffic toward the Middle East. 

“Marketing cruising in the Red Sea region has much better chances of success than just marketing Saudi Arabia by itself,” said Fawaz Farooqui, managing director of Cruise Saudi, a 100 percent subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund that works with the government to build the offshore and onshore cruise ecosystem. 

The company has collaborated with Egypt and Jordan to develop cruise tourism in the region and is currently in talks with Oman to hoist their sails when the wind is fair.