Q&A on Saudi Arabia's Hotel infrastructure - Development
By Joseph Fischer - LIVE from the WTTC Global Summit 2022
Sunday, 4th December 2022

Exclusive Feature: The Kingdom wants to attract 100 million tourists and generate 10% of its huge GDP from tourism, this enormous tourism potential poses great challenges for the Kingdom as well.

Last week, the WTTC held its 22nd. Annual Global Summit in Riyadh.

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, hosting this prestigious summit at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Conference Center was making a bold statement: “We are opening up to the world”. How would I describe my impressions just in one word? WOW!

Above: Joseph Fischer (left) with Gerard 'Jerry' Inzerillo, Group Chief Executive Officer at Diriyah Gate Development

For three days, thousands of senior executives, policy makers, senior government officials, and hundreds of journalists and reporters had an opportunity to have a first look at the Saudi tourism vision, and it is truly gigantic.
Their target is to reach 100 million tourist arrivals to the kingdom by 2030.

To be able to reach this challenging, and some skeptics might say, unattainable figure, the kingdom will spend an unprecedented, staggering amount of Six Trillion US $ on the kingdom’s tourism infrastructures, developing five Giga projects around this vast land – the kingdom is the world’s eighth largest country.

After seeing all the presentations and visiting one of those Giga projects – The Diriyah Gate Development in Riyadh, it is safe to say that they are on the right way to reaching their goals.

How do I see it? Like a massive sheet of canvas with five brush strokes of vivid colors that need to be connected and composed into a masterpiece.

I asked some of the Saudi officials I met and the foreign specialists involved in the different projects: “so, who has the vision of the great picture?”.

The honest answer I received from one person was :”HRH Crown Prince MBS”

As mentioned at the beginning, KSA is starting to open up, but with that being said, interviewing Saudi officials was simply impossible.

I was trying to pre-arrange interviews weeks ahead of the summit, but I was asked to wait for the summit and that these interviews would then be possible.

During the summit, I made countless efforts to have short, 10 minute interviews with officials, and I was politely brushed off. “Maybe tomorrow…”, “I will do my best”, “They are very busy right now”.

What you will read in this article is the result of the last attempt I made. I was asked to submit a list of 3 questions to each of the hierarchies I asked to meet and get answers in writing. As you can see, there are no names behind the answers.

Also Read: 'Saudi Arabia’s ambition to become one of the top 5 tourism destinations in the world'

Hotel infrastructure- Development

Q. The Kingdom seems to be focusing on five stars and five-star Deluxe hotels, but we don’t hear about the economy/budget sectors.
50% of the global population are millennials and Gen Z, and most of them don’t look for luxury, but instead focus on gathering local experiences interacting with the local community. Does the kingdom offer solutions for these tourists?

A. Saudi Arabia has many mid-range and low-budget hotels across the country with competitive rates that will meet the needs of millennials and Gen Z.

Novotel, for example, has hotels in all the major cities, including mid-ranged cities such as Jazan in the southwest of the country. There are also domestic Saudi hotel chains.

International hotel chains are also boosting their presence in the Kingdom.

With over 400,000 hotel rooms today, we expect 854,000 more hotel rooms by 2030, of which 70% will be privately funded. Prestigious hotel groups, including Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, IHG, and Rosewood Hotel Group have committed to expanding their footprint across Saudi Arabia.

Q. EU countries and the U.S. have international classification systems in place - Star grading like HotelStarsUnion for the EU. Will the Kingdom adopt one of the internationally known systems?

Not answered

Questions for the flight connectivity:

Q. How many aircraft will KSA operate by 2030, and in how many airlines?

A. Saudi Arabia is regularly looking to expand its fleet. Saudi Arabia is also easing access and driving connectivity to welcome more visitors than ever before through the Air Connectivity Program, which aims to increase international flight connectivity from 99 to 250+ destinations by 2030.

In November, SAUDIA Group, the aviation holding company that owns SAUDIA and Flyadeal, signed a sale and leaseback agreement with AviLease company to deliver 20 Airbus A320neo aircraft to be operated on long-term leases by Flyadeal, SAUDIA Group’s low-cost carrier (LCC).

As of September 2022, the SAUDIA fleet consisted of about 150 aircraft, including passenger and cargo planes. During the first half of 2022, nearly 4.8 million international guests flew SAUDIA, an increase of 242%. SAUDIA operated 28,600 international flights during H1 2022, an increase of 156%.

Q. Will KSA give subsidies to airlines starting new routes to the kingdom?

A. The minister of tourism, Mr. Ahmed Al-Khateeb said earlier this year that the Kingdom would consider offering incentives to airlines that operate unprofitable routes that link it to big global cities in an effort to boost tourist arrivals into the Kingdom. It is planning the move as part of its Air Connectivity Program.

The main purpose is to create direct flights to our main target markets and compensate airlines to cover their losses from flying direct flights to these very important hubs for us. The funding will come directly from the government; however, the amount is unclear.

Q. Will the KSA create a JV low-cost airline like Abu Dhabi did (Wizzair Abu Dhabi)

A. We created a low-budget carrier in 2017, Flyadeal, which is owned by our national carrier, SAUDIA. The airline serves cities in the Middle East, including Dubai, Khartoum, and Cairo, among others. FlyNas, an additional low budget carrier, has been flying since 2007

Q. How do you expect to create a local flight network to connect all the different destinations in the kingdom, and which airlines will operate locally?

A. Saudi Arabia already has an extensive domestic network that provides flights to most of the Kingdom’s cities. We have three carriers – SAUDIA, Flynas and Flyadeal – that connect our cities. We will grow through national carriers and new partners, including Wizz Air who will launch 23 routes over the next 12- months

SAUDIA, with the Royal Commission for AlUla and the French Agency for the Development of AlUla announced on November 9th the resumption of a weekly direct flight between Paris CDG airport and AlUla international airport every Sunday from December 4, 2022, to March 12, 2023. The route will allow French travellers to reach AlUla in only 5 hours.

Tourism marketing strategy:

Q. KSA wants to attract the general public and at the same time offer Muslims that do UMRAH to extend their stay “Umrah plus.”
How do you see the potential built conflict between these two markets, and how will it be addressed and resolved?

A. Saudi Arabia is an open and welcoming country that is proud to welcome the world to our country, whatever their reason for visiting.

With that being said, we recognize the continued importance of pilgrims visiting the holy cities in the kingdom and plan to continue to develop this sector. The eVisa allows a tourist to participate in tourism-related activities such as events, family & relatives visits, leisure, and Umrah (excluding Hajj).

For example, the recently supported Nusuk launch, the integrated digital platform that offers pilgrims and visitors an easy-to-use planning gateway for their journeys to Makkah and Madinah. Nusuk has successfully been established as a unified platform to facilitate visa access to Saudi Arabia, directing more than 95% of Nusuk visitors to our eVisa platform.

Simultaneously, we launched the eVisa in 2019 to 49 countries, which to date has more than 1.4 million tourism entries. Saudi Arabia recently extended eVisa regulations to enable UK, US, and EU residents to apply for a Visa on Arrival.

Q. KSA is closer in distance to Asia. Would you consider the Asian feeder markets as your main focus?

A. Our tourism market is open to all areas of the world and to ensure we continue to make Saudi Arabia more accessible to the world.. We want to attract visitors from Asia, of course, but not exclusively.

Our tourism offerings are broad enough to appeal to large markets in Asia, Europe and North America. We offer the e-visa to seven Asian nations: Brunei, China, including Hong Kong and Macau, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea

Q. In the luxury segment, you’re in direct competition with the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman.
How do you differentiate your product from one of your competitors in the region?

A. We are fortunate to be in a region where other countries offer high-end tourism; it makes the region appealing to travelers from around the world and more competitive globally, and that benefits all of us within the GCC as well.

We know that tourists will want to experience authentic hospitality, heritage, and warmth in the region, and Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer.

We are making the Red Sea a luxury tourism destination. With beaches, canyons, mountains, mangroves, and home to the fourth largest coral reef system in the world, it stands out globally. Activity for phase one of development is well underway and on track for completion by the end of 2023, which includes 16 hotels in total.

The first resorts that are set to open in early 2023 are Nujuma RCR, St Regis and Six Senses.

AlUla is a living museum of preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops, and historic dwellings that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored history. The Banyan Tree has opened a new resort in AlUla’s Ashar Valley, close to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra – it is the first Banyan Tree in Saudi and is an all-villa tented resort.

Cruise Saudi will transform Saudi’s coastline into a sustainable tourism destination. Cruise Saudi has operated two successful seasons in 2021/2022, welcoming more than 50,000 passengers from more than 80 nationalities, and aims to welcome 1.3 million cruise passenger visits by 2035.

What stands out is our heritage. We have 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites and 10,000+ archaeological sites – including the spectacular AlUla – that make Saudi Arabia a unique tourist destination.

My final words: visiting the KSA was very high on my destinations lists. After spending six days in Riyadh I understand that I actually saw nothing of this amazing country. I would love visiting Al Ula, The Red Sea, the Asir region, Al Ansatz – Hajar oasis.

There is enormous tourism potential that poses great challenges for the Kingdom. Will they succeed? That depends on how the leadership will be able to have all Saudi people, both young and older generations, join this Mammut transformation.


Joseph Fischer is the CEO of Vision Hospitality & Travel - An international lodging & hospitality consulting firm. He is a veteran hotelier with over 30 years of extensive management experience in the global lodging Industry.

A strategic “out-of-the-box” thinker, visionary, with plenty of tangible and ready-to-be-implemented ideas. Joseph is a frequent contributing writer on 4Hoteliers.com global new portal.

This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

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