Saudi Arabia, World Bank pledge $ 100 million to Global Tourism Fund

RIYAD: Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the World Bank, has pledged $ 100 million to establish the International Fund for Global Tourism, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Kingdom’s Minister of Tourism said during the opening speech of the Tourism Recovery Summit 2021 held in Riyadh.

“This will be the first and only global fund dedicated solely to the sustainable growth of international tourism,” he said.

The current global coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has brought the tourism industry to its knees. Steps are now being taken by industry leaders to help the sector recover as it weaves its way through the impact of the health crisis.

“Sustainability, inclusiveness and collaboration” are the three essential principles which, according to the Saudi minister, will be responsible for the global effort to revive tourism.

“I am proud to say that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is already acting on these principles,” he said.

“As a new destination, our priority is to protect our rich natural and cultural heritage and to set new standards for sustainability. Our giga projects will combine nature adventure and cultural attractions in a way that respects the highest environmental standards.

NEOM, a city located in the north of the Kingdom, will be the first city to rely solely on natural modes of transport and eliminate carbon emissions of all kinds. The Red Sea project aims to be the world’s largest destination powered by “clean energy” without connection to the national grid, the minister explained.

In addition, the minister also highlighted the recently announced Saudi Green initiatives which he said “will protect over 30% of the Kingdom’s land and improve our precious natural heritage by planting 10 billion trees”.

International arrivals to Saudi Arabia plunged 74% in 2020 due to the pandemic as tourism’s contribution to global GDP almost halved, according to the Saudi minister, with more than 60 million jobs lost globally .

During the Saudi G20 presidency, the Kingdom hosted the first-ever private sector tourism event in collaboration with policymakers to forge strategies for the future of tourism and coordinate immediate response actions to the pandemic.

“We are talking about $ 5.5 trillion in losses in 2020 worldwide for this industry,” Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, deputy tourism minister responsible for executive affairs and strategy, told the conference.

“We changed the language in Saudi Arabia. We don’t call them tourism jobs anymore, we call them tourism careers, ”she said.

During the pandemic, 35,000 jobs were created in the Kingdom at a time when the world was losing tourism jobs, said Princess Haifa. Saudi Arabia also saw a 33% increase in spending due to a shift in focus towards domestic tourism.

A total of SR 13.9 billion ($ 3.71 billion) was spent in the summer of 2020 alone, Princess Haifa said: “We have promoted it locally and engaged the local community.”

International travel resumed in the Kingdom on May 17. At the Arabian Travel Market last week, Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin said that the fourth quarter of this year could be a turning point for the Saudi tourism industry as countries qu ‘it aims to achieve an immunization rate of 70 percent.

Saudi Arabia opened up to international tourism in September 2019 and has since announced a number of megaprojects to attract visitors, including a $ 530 million fund to develop key destinations across the Kingdom. Riyadh aims to increase the contribution of its tourism sector to its GDP from 3% to 10%, with the aim of modernizing its economy and moving away from dependence on oil.

Market research firm Euromonitor International estimated in March that spending on inbound tourism to Saudi Arabia would reach $ 25.3 billion by 2025, recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

Saudi domestic tourism has exceeded expectations during the pandemic, although the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has called 2020 the “worst year on record in tourism history.”

UNWTO figures in December revealed that the destinations received 900 million fewer international tourists between January and October, compared to the same period in 2019, which was a 72% year-on-year decline.

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