Tourism has adopted an increasing amount of economic importance in Saudi Arabia in recent years, with the kingdom’s government devoting enormous attention to restructuring the sector.
In 2000, the state created the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) and the Supreme Commission in an effort to promote tourism within the nation, in line with its Islamic values, culture and environment.
Aiming to unify the country’s previously regionally fragmented tourism industry by providing guidance on both a national and provincial level, the SCTA has executed and embarked upon a 20-year economic plan to develop the sector in a sustainable manner.
Chaired by the President, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Commission works to preserve and promote the nation’s museums and heritage sites, oversee the accommodation sector, assist with tourist visas, supervise the work of tour agencies, and support tourism projects. It also places great emphasis on liaising with both the public and private sectors to achieve these means.
Rich in both natural and historical wonders, as a tourist destination Saudi Arabia has much to offer. Its unique geographic location grants it a wide variety of terrains and climates, boasting desert, sea, bustling cities and World Heritage Sites.
Its reputation as a peaceful kingdom is one the cabinet is keen to capitalize on, in addition to maximizing the potential of the country’s natural touristic attractions.
The nation has seen its international profile raised of late, thanks to various cultural initiatives such as the exhibition ‘Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’. Currently being hosted by the USA after touring Europe, the exhibition has attracted huge crowds to the Washington-based Smithsonian museum, where it is now based.
‘Roads of Arabia’ contains 320 historical artifacts originating from the Riyadh-based National Museum, the Museum of King Saud University, the King Fahd National Library and other various Saudi cultural institutions. It also contains numerous artifacts discovered in recent expeditions, ranging in date from the Paleolithic Age to the Saudi State Age.
Additional attractions at the exhibition include children’s calligraphy workshops, theater shows of Arab historical stories, and a concert given by a Saudi folklore band.
Inaugurated in November last year by Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and Wayne Clough, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, it has attracted more than 1 million visitors and received wide acclaim.
Other recent projects to boost Saudi Arabia’s profile include the second SCTA Urban Heritage Forum, held in the Eastern Province in December 2012. Attended by numerous Saudi and international urban heritage experts and officials, the forum provided the opportunity for discussions on a number of related issues in the kingdom.
Topics covered included investment in heritage development and preservation, education and training, social awareness and participation, project financing, and technology.
There remains progress to be made, but Prince Sultan bin Salman recently praised the Commission for advancing in many areas of the tourism sector.
“In order to meet its projections diligently, the Commission’s most important task was the development of its structure and statute, in addition to raising the social awareness and acceptance by the community on tourism and antiquities,” he says.
“This required a broad participation of all the relevant sectors working in the community, with an emphasis that the Saudi citizen is the main element of tourism and requires due attention.”