One-on-One With Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin

Saudi Arabia is a growing destination.

Since it opened for tourism in 2019, Saudi Arabia has become a place to be added to many travelers’ bucket lists.


Many American travelers still don’t know much about the country.

We caught up with the CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority Fahd Hamid Al-Din to learn more about tourism developments in the country, as well as listen to his message for travel advisors.

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TravelPulse: With the travel industry starting a recovery path, what’s the latest about tourism in Saudi Arabia?

Fahd Hamid El-Din: 2019 was the year we opened, after five months on the road our borders were closed due to the Corona virus. Therefore, it is very easy to recover. We are now up over 130% compared to the first six months of [2019].

We are in tremendous growth because we are a new destination, there has been a lot of mystery associated with this country that has been hidden from the world and is now open. So there are a lot of people and a lot of people in the industry and shakers who say this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. There are hardly any destinations that are still closed, let alone a destination as rich and large as Saudi Arabia, so we are very optimistic about the future.

Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest investor in tourism. We truly believe in the power of tourism for the people, the region and the world. Then you go and talk about development - no country develops sustainably [like Saudi]. Sustainability - It’s a big word, but the reality on the ground is that you start with the basics. Sustainability is, let’s talk about your local communities, so they are residents before travelers. Its opportunity, access to wealth, preservation of culture - all this is part of sustainability.

In terms of sustainability, Saudi Arabia has committed 70% of its total land as reserves and committed to recreating 21 species around the world - we started with the Arabian leopard. We’re now talking about the future of destinations, like developing the 300 Virgin Islands we have on the Red Sea, or the city of the future on The Line in NEOM, or preserving and celebrating our heritage sites - and that goes way beyond just six UNESCO heritage sites. [It’s] Sites that capture 7000 years of history. Then you have Diriyah with a $50 billion commitment to develop the world’s largest mud city. Diriyah is the birthplace of the kings and heroes of Arabia, so there is a lot to do.

TP: Health and safety are the top priority for travelers these days, so what is your message to travelers regarding the safety of their visit when they come to Saudi Arabia?

FH: So, security is now multi-layered. As far as COVID as an example, this is probably the biggest topic, and Saudi Arabia has always been among the top five in all the reports in the world on how we are responding to COVID. Having a fully integrated national plan implemented with full compliance was the main theme of what Saudi Arabia has become a global headline for women’s safety. I think Saudi Arabia, according to one of the latest US global safety reports, basically said Saudi Arabia is home to the safest city for women after midnight. If you go and look at the UN reports on crime rates, Saudi Arabia is among the highest crime rates in the world. Therefore, I believe that we are not only safe, but we are the safest in the world or among the safest places in the world.

TP: Many Americans have a preconceived notion of Saudi Arabia - how do you feel about that?

FH: I usually say the world sees the world through the American lens. Now with that, the American lens interested in what is happening in a country as far away as Saudi Arabia will look at the tensions and consider the issues, so naturally it only covers things like wars, oil prices, human rights and so on. Holds and then they actually tend to carry an image of that country by what they care about, and if they talk about the good stuff they don’t sell, so you get it.

But I think a lot of people, as I said, see the world through the American lens, I was among those who appreciated a lot of the great values ​​of American values ​​through education. I think that every civilization has its own system of beauty and values, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been providing it for centuries and thousands of years, and I think that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the largest and original of the Arab world, has a lot of what it has to offer and present today.

I would encourage all of these curious travelers to open up and they will be delighted, like the more than 80,000 Americans who visited us last quarter.

Saudi Arabia, Red Sea
The Red Sea (Photo courtesy of the Saudi Tourism Authority)

TP: Earlier this year it was announced that Playa Hotels & Resorts will offer all-inclusive resorts in Saudi Arabia - what is the future of all-inclusive resorts in Saudi Arabia? Are more hotels on the horizon?

FH: Of course there is a lot on the horizon. I mean, every week I learn about new hotels checking in. And now, everything specifically, I know there’s only one Rixos out there [Playa Resorts] One. But I think major cities and a city like Jeddah for example would be an ideal destination for everyone. Most all inclusive programs are beach resorts, right? So our beach destinations, we have mainstream like Jeddah, we have luxury destinations like Red Sea Project Amaala. Rixos One is hosted by Jeddah, so I expect more to follow there.

TP: Hotels in general are growing though?

FH: Yes, it’s a growing market. The number of hotels advertised in one project, I know they host 38 five star hotels. They announced Baccarat, Four Seasons, Aman, Montague…but they expect to have 38 locations and that’s just one development location in Riyadh.

The goal is to attract 100 million visitors and is to offer an additional 500,000 rooms in the next eight years…that’s nearly four times as many as Vegas.

TP: What is your message to travel advisors?

FH: I’d like to say what is this [advisors] They delight their customers and give them useful travel, so I believe the ultimate luxury is worthwhile travel. I believe that Saudi Arabia, with its culture and commitment to doing what is good for the sector, can make it a very rewarding destination for all consultants.

I encourage them to discover Saudi Arabia and join others who are already starting and enjoying good business growth. And one more commitment [advisors] is that we guarantee their experience. The Saudi Tourism Authority guarantees their experience.

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