Saudi launches new tourist attractions for Indian travellers

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Announces the launch of VIA Riyadh, expanding Saudi’s luxury shopping and entertainment offering

Saudi Tourism Authority has leveraged its partnership with the TATA Indian Premier League (IPL) to launch bespoke promotional packages with leading travel agencies like Akbar Travels, SOTC, Make My Trip, Cleartrip, and Ease My Trip; promoting Saudi as the leading leisure destination for Indian travellers. 

Saudi has also announced the opening of multiple VFS Tasheer Visa offices by the end of May. These offices will serve as the authorized visa partners for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, providing applicants with efficient and secure administrative visa services.

As part of Saudi’s tourism strategy, India represents immense potential as it is expected to be Saudi’s largest tourism source market by 2030. Recently, IndiGo Airlines announced a new airline route from Ahmedabad to Jeddah, with daily direct flights starting August 11, 2023, which should further boost tourism from India.

With the aim of promoting its leisure and entertainment offerings to the world, Saudi is also excited to announce the opening of VIA Riyadh, scheduled for May 18. This event is set to attract a global audience and will showcase Saudi’s latest luxury shopping and entertainment district. The new development will feature the luxurious St. Regis hotel, 23 international brands, 17 restaurants and seven cinemas. VIA Riyadh will be home to several international award-winning restaurants including Gymkhana, Ferdi, Bianca, and Les Deux Magots. The new project is part of the initiative to develop Saudi’s entertainment sector and help diversify the economy as part of the Saudi Vision 2030. 

To attract more visitors, the country had also announced the Stopover Visa, allowing Indian passengers traveling with SAUDIA to spend up to 96 hours in Saudi Arabia and enjoy a complimentary hotel night. This move, along with Saudi Tourism Authority’s partnerships with airlines, leading tour operators and IPL to promote Saudi’s diverse offerings for Indian travellers demonstrates Saudi’s commitment to developing its tourism sector and positioning itself as the new leisure tourism frontier.

As a country steeped in history, Saudi Arabia has many cultural treasures waiting to be discovered. Indian visitors can embrace Saudi’s history and heritage at the Ushaiger Heritage Village in the heart of the Najd region to get a glimpse into traditional Saudi life, as well as explore Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Arabia. The Saudi National Museum in Riyadh brings visitors on a journey through centuries of culture, art and history from prehistoric Arabia to the modern-day kingdom, giving Indian travellers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant arts and culture scene of Saudi Arabia.

‘India is a key market for Saudi Arabian tourism’

Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious programme to boost inbound tourism and considers India a key market, said Saudi Tourism Board CEO Fahd Hamidaddin. Hamidaddin, who has been the chief of investment, strategy and tourism marketing for the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, spoke to PTI on the sidelines of the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Manila.

“We went on a road trip to India, met a lot of travel agents there and have some promising partnerships. Now, our focus is on air carriers. We want to develop routes from India and grow these routes. We want to promote the destinations with our trade partners from India,” Hamidaddin said.

“I am expecting a lot (of bilateral agreements) to be signed this year. Because we feel India is definitely a key market for Saudi. The government is also addressing the issue of accessibility with visas and air connectivity for leisure, business and religious travel,” said Hamidaddin, who is in charge of the Visit Saudi destination brand.

Making Umrah more accessible

He also referred to efforts to make Umrah more accessible and less expensive for travellers from the Muslim world. “We found out that some brokers are marking up the cost of getting to Saudi for Umrah (pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca), and that should not happen,” he said.

“Historically, Saudi Arabia has dedicated a certain number for Umrah to dedicated travel agents,” Hamidaddin said. “Now, we are going to open up for all the travel industry, so that any travel agent can offer Umrah packages,” he said.

Indian travellers are very well acquainted with the Middle East, he said. “There are people who come to Saudi historically, the Muslims. We are trying to make it a lot easier as far as access is concerned. The message is that we welcome everyone,” he added. The appetite from Indians is very promising, he said.

Asked about restrictions for foreign tourists in his country, Hamidaddin said, “We have started lifting so many restrictions. In the past, women (tourists) were asked to wear the abaya (loose-fitting full-length robe). We no longer ask them to do so. As long as they wear modest (clothes) it is fine.”

“Earlier, (foreign tourist) couples (staying at a hotel) needed to prove they were married. A marriage certificate was required while checking in. We don’t ask for that anymore,” he said. Hamidaddin said Saudi is delivering on its ambitions to open up to a new tourist market and grow travel and tourism into one of its biggest earners following the pandemic.

“Saudi is the latest large destination to open up for the world. I say large as in with the number of cities, destinations and very diverse cultures it has. We started opening tourism in 2019 but then the pandemic came,” he said. “A key learning was about accessibility, which needs to be eased to the maximum,” he said.

Facilitating visa access

“We started with e-visas for 49 countries around the world, as well as allowing citizens of any country holding a valid US, UK and Schengen visa to get a visa on arrival. Tourist visas are available through Saudi consulates worldwide and we are continuing to work on further facilitating access for people who are eager to visit Saudi,” he said.

Hamidaddin said the Saudis are looking at creating “easy and digitally trackable measures” so that people can get visas electronically. “This is what we are now studying and it should be addressed later this year,” he added.

By the end of last year, inbound tourists to Saudi were 72 per cent of the pre-pandemic levels, outperforming any other country, he said. We are expecting the second-quarter results to reach 150 per cent, he added. Saudi Arabia is going through an amazing transformation and tourism is at the forefront, he said.

Saudi Arabia combines authentic Arabian culture, pristine nature, diverse landscapes and culture, and a rapidly expanding entertainment offer, he added. There are six UNESCO World Heritage sites and over 10,000 archaeological sites, including the pristine Red Sea, home to coral reefs and huge biodiversity. Saudi is recognised as the most exciting investment opportunity in tourism today, he said.