Saudi tourism sees 130% recovery in first quarter from pre-pandemic levels, authority CEO says

TRSDC is grooming a new breed of Saudi hospitality professionals to put the Kingdom firmly on the global tourism map

RIYADH: A few years ago, it was a bit inconceivable to see tourists in large numbers swimming in the Saudi Red Sea or marveling at the breathtaking natural habitats of nearby islands.

Frankly, the Kingdom has never been on the radar screen of potential European, American and Asian tourists as most of these visitors preferred to vacation in more popular tourist destinations.

However, that is about to change.

The Saudi government, keen to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil as its main source of revenue, has embarked on an ambitious multi-billion dollar plan to make the Red Sea a major tourist attraction.

To achieve this goal, the Kingdom established The Red Sea Development Co., which was incorporated as a closed joint stock company wholly owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

The company’s main task is to develop and promote a new international luxury tourism destination that will set high standards for sustainability and bring the next generation of luxury travel.

According to the company, the development will provide unprecedented investment options and allow visitors to explore the five unspoiled treasures of the Kingdom’s west coast: the archipelago of more than 90 islands with stunning coral reefs, dormant volcanoes and pristine nature reserves.

The new destination, which covers an area of ​​28,000 km2, is located between Umluj and Al Wajh, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Oasis of relief

Company executives are optimistic about the future and are confident that the first wave of tourists will arrive in the Red Sea at the end of 2022.

“We are preparing to welcome the world’s most discerning travelers to the Red Sea Project by the end of this year, when our first hotels open. We have made significant progress to ensure we stay on track,” Anton Bawab, chief operating officer at TRSDC, told Arab News.

Anton Bawab, Head of Operations, TRSDC

Bawab said the company had identified hotel brands and partners and announced nine of them last October.

These include major global brands such as Jumeirah, Six Senses, EDITION, St Regis, Fairmont, Raffles, SLS, Grand Hyatt and InterContinental.

“These offerings will be among 16 hotels we have planned for the first phase of development by 2023. Once completed, we will host 50 resorts offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and over 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. . The destination will also feature an international airport, luxury marinas, golf courses, and entertainment and leisure facilities,” Bawab explained.

Bawab hoped that by 2030 the number of visitors to the Red Sea would reach one million.

“By 2030, annual visitor numbers will be capped at one million to ensure we provide an exclusive experience while mitigating environmental impacts and protecting local heritage, nature and culture for future generations.

“Access will lead visitors, and visitors will lead access. To this end, we are working hand in hand with regional airlines to ensure that our international airport is accessible with frequent flights at convenient times,” he noted.

According to TRSDC estimates, by 2030 the TRSP will contribute SR22 billion ($5.9 billion) per year to the local gross domestic product, while construction and 10 years of steady-state operation will generate revenue cumulative of SR464 billion by 2044.

Cultivate local talent

TRSDC’s work does not stop there. The company has also created a talent team to prepare young Saudi nationals to work on the job creation project in the market.

One of the key people behind this team is Zehar Filemban, Senior Director of Talent Development at TRSDC.

“Our commitment to inject 70,000 jobs into the local market while engaging with the public, private and start-up sectors, will reinvigorate a thriving economy. Our mission is to redefine the relationship between luxury and sustainability while inviting the world to discover previously unknown local treasures. This will highlight the country’s credentials as an ambitious nation in the global tourism scene,” Filemban said.

Zehar Filemban, Senior Director of Talent Development

To achieve these strategic imperatives, the company strives to produce economic, environmental and social co-benefits for the entire tourism value chain.

“The global nature of the tourism industry means that we inspire growth by supporting economic sectors such as renewable energy, clean transport, low-impact building and construction, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture and wildlife management,” Filemban said.

He emphasized that TRSDC is committed to becoming an employer of choice by recruiting, developing and retaining exceptional talent, promoting Saudiization and supporting diversity and inclusion.

“In this pursuit, we will continue to facilitate knowledge transfer within local, regional and international industry; enhance professional development opportunities and nurture young Saudi talent,” Filemban said.

Preparing for the future

Filemban added that the company creates tomorrow’s changemakers through robust learning and development courses such as the annual Elite Graduate program, preparation programs in local cities, community workshops and training opportunities. and advanced mentoring.

“We do this in close partnership with industry leaders such as the National eLearning Center, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Human Resources Development Fund, Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation, Saudi Academy entertainment, Tabuk University and Prince Mugrin University.”

Filemban also supervised different departments to harness the abilities of young Saudi nationals and prepare them to take on new responsibilities in the future.

“Over 600 students are currently enrolled in educational programs that support the delivery of high quality education and enhance the learning experience to meet the needs of all employees and students. Programs that vary between professional training and scholarships, in a wide range of fields, including hospitality management, airport services and technical services,” he added.

Filemban insisted that people are the company’s greatest assets and are at the center of its organizational development, supported by its education and learning systems.
On May 19, TRSDC took another key step towards nurturing young Saudi talent by signing the second agreement with the Human Resource Development Fund to deliver high-quality training programs. HRDF Managing Director Turki Aljawini visited the site to sign the new agreement and familiarize himself with the project site.

This partnership will create a substantial pipeline to support and equip 1,000 young Saudis with the knowledge and expertise to start a successful career at TRSDC in various fields such as hospitality, tourism security and information technology.

eager to learn

The students also shared their business experience and closely followed the progress of the work.

Lojain Labban, a student at Prince Mugrin University under a TRSDC scholarship program, heard about the program through a Twitter personality who had advertised the host scholarship, and this sparked her interest.

Lojain Labban, scholarship student

“I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, I didn’t know much about the major, but it seemed like a fantastic opportunity with one of the biggest companies in the Kingdom,” Labban said. .

She expressed her admiration for the project and was even more impressed by the officials’ determination to attract tourists to the Red Sea.

“I love that they are developing parts of Saudi Arabia that will soon become one of the best places for tourism; they are creating a tourist hotspot here. You don’t have to look far to see luxury vacation spots. It helps the whole and the Saudi citizens themselves to really explore and appreciate the beauty of the Kingdom,” Labban said.

Abdulrahman Hamid Alshithiwani, a high school student from Umluj, was also among the young Saudis who saw work progress in the Red Sea.

“First of all, I am proud of this finest achievement because they have set themselves a very ambitious goal, and it is in my region that I was born and raised. And to know that I am part of a giga-project that will capture the world’s attention by 2030,” said Alshithiwani.

He believes that these projects will provide a huge number of job opportunities in many fields such as hospitality, renewable energy, aviation, environment and much more.

“This project will take us to another level that will allow us to be competitive and excel in these markets,” concluded Alshithiwani.

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