Home to some of the most breath-taking desertscapes on earth, Saudi Arabia has been attracting increasing numbers of international visitors in recent months. Breaking Travel News takes a look at the rise of the Kingdom.
For centuries, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was considered closed to outsiders, penetrable only to the bravest and the boldest, such as Lawrence of Arabia, who risked his life to get there.
But in 2000, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities was established to nurture the kingdom’s tourism sector, and with this a subtle opening of the nation’s borders.
The result is that visitor numbers have risen steadily over the past decade, and the destination has also witnessed a major economic expansion, repositioning itself as a key player in the global travel & tourism arena.
Yet despite these changes, Saudi Arabia remains a very special and untouched land.
In 2011, the contribution of tourism to the gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded 7.2 percent, which contributed significantly to the recruitment of a large number of Saudi citizens.
The percentage of employment of Saudis in the sector reached 26 percent of the total workforce in the tourism sector in 2011, occupying 670,000 jobs, which is considered as the second highest rate of employment in the national economic sectors.
Tourism also employed 9.1 percent of the total workforce in the private sector across the kingdom.
His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism&Antiquities (SCTA), recently pointed out the significance of tourism as one of the most important factors for economic development and the fastest-growing sector in the world.
HRH President of SCTA further stated that tourism has become the fastest-growing sector in terms of job creation, and has become a major factor for the development of the world economy.
HRH President of SCTA, also referred to the role of tourism in the social and economic development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through its focusing on the citizen as the major and strategic target of the tourism development process, explaining that over the last eight years, the key task of SCTA, since its inception, was to create appropriate jobs to youth in the Kingdom.
Prince Sultan explained: “I think we have yet to do much to highlight the importance of tourism in the international economy.”
He added: “Tourism has become one of the fastest-growing economy sectors, creating jobs, which is the core factor of tourism, in addition to its collateral importance in the global economy.”
In addition, 15 international hotels have recently entered the Kingdom with substantial investments as the SCTA continues its mission to establish a fund for tourism and accommodation development.
Prince Sultan commented: “SCTA is still at the beginning of the road in the development of accommodation sector and the suffering will continue, because there is no or very weak funding.
“Financing in hotels is still not satisfactory, hence we are working with the Ministry of Finance to create a fund to finance tourism accommodation sector,” added HRH.
He added:“His Excellency the Minister of Finance agreed on this issue, regarding the support to the accommodation sector (hotels and furnished apartments and such facilities), including recreation areas, resorts and others. And if we look for real tourism, then we will also need to be funding in the beaches and facilities.”
Saudi Arabia highlights
What intrepid travellers will discover are mountains, inspiring desert landscapes, ancient ruins and Red Sea beaches with turquoise waters that offer some of the world’s finest diving.
Cultural attractions include the astonishing Mada’in Saleh, a pre-Islamic archaeological site that rivals Petra, Jordan.
The Empty Quarter, the largest sea of sand on earth, is home to giant sand dunes. Traditional Bedouin tribes still roam the Empty Quarter and experiencing their hospitality is the highlight of any trip to Saudi Arabia. You can also catch a glimpse of the beautiful Arabian oryx.
On the coast, the bustling capital of Jeddah is filled with charming souqs and beautiful coral houses. Off its shores lie Saudi’s Red Sea riches – reefs that rank among the least spoilt and most spectacular in the world.
A number of exciting developments are underway in Riyadht, including the newly-opened Ritz-Carlon Riyadh. The exquisite property was originally envisioned as a royal guest palace for visiting dignitaries and heads of state.
Located in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, the hotel boasts stately architecture modelled on traditional palaces and elegant Arabian residences. Native palms, 600-year-old olive trees from Lebanon provide an oasis of serenity amid the city centre.
The property also accommodates international summits and social gala events thanks to two colossal ballrooms. These are complimented by two vast auditorium-style theatres.
Redefining luxury in the Holy City of Makkah
Religion is the oldest form of tourism, and in Islam the great pilgrimage to Makkah is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham.
In 2010, some three million pilgrims participated in the Hajj. Discerning visitors also enjoyed an entirely new level of luxury by checking into the new Raffles Makkah Palace.
Located just a three-minute walk from the Grand Mosque, the Holy City’s latest property boasts Raffles’ trademark sophistication coupled with breathtaking views of the cube-shaped Ka’aba, the most sacred site in Islam.
Raffles Makkah Palace is located in the spectacular new Abraj Al Bait complex, a seven-tower community in the heart of the Holy City.
The property prides itself on being an extremely discreet yet highly refined residential sanctuary, with personal butlers providing round-the-clock service to guests in every one of the 213 suites.
The design draws inspiration from the heritage and culture of the Middle East, while keeping with Raffles’ style of having each hotel reflect a sense of its destination and journey.
The hotel also has a firm eye on the corporate market by providing state-of-the-art conferencing and meeting facilities. Secretaries are available on request, and the library features more than 2,000 classic Islamic texts.
Four exquisite dining facilities offer specialities from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and other eastern Mediterranean nations, as well as a range of western and international favourites. The Creamery makes Tepanyaki ice cream, which can be served on the Terrace overlooking the Grand Mosque.
The Globe Restaurant heralds new era of architecture
When The Globe restaurant opened in January 2002, it heralded a new era of architecture and design not just for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but the entire Arabic world.
To many it has come to represent the jewel in the crown of the Kingdom’s first city – an golden geodesic orb sitting proudly on top of Al Faisaliah Tower, the country’s first skyscraper.
The restaurant offers an experience that goes beyond merely food – the cutting-edge design and sweeping panoramas have help transform it into an attraction that draws visitors from across the world.
Created by Sir Norman Foster, the design is said to be based on that of a ballpoint pen. The luxury restaurant proudly sits within the golden ball, and revolves to give 360-degree views that stretch for over 40 miles across the city and beyond.
Guests can enjoy views of Saudi Arabia’s other skyscraper, the Kingdom Centre, and the two buildings form to create a silhouetted skyline in the evening.
Its panoramic views of the Kingdom’s first city also gave a new twist to the meaning of high altitude dining.
With a capacity of 88 diners, every aspect of The Globe interior has been designed to reflect the unique nature of its location.
In the four years it took to build The Globe, the design team ensured that every single detail, no matter how small, captured the exclusive nature of high-altitude dining experience so that guests would be assured of a truly memorable occasion.
In May, The Globe experience was recognized by the World Travel Awards, the “Oscars of the Travel Industry”. In a gala ceremony hosted in Dubai attended by the who’s who of travel and tourism, the restaurant picked up “Middle East’s Leading Architectural Concept”, following a hotly-contested competition that saw thousands of votes cast by the travel industry as well as the general public.
The judges noted how The Globe had become a globally-renowned venue, recognized throughout the world as one of the most innovative and exciting entertainment and dining experiences.
The victory was also recognition for the achievement of the Al Faisaliah Centre. Since opening in May 2000, it has become an icon of world stature and renown, “an oasis giving substance to the soul of the city”.
The centre is Riyadh’s most exclusive address and has been described as a city within a city, combining an ultra-luxury, five-star hotel, 100 private designer apartments, conference and banqueting facilities with a capacity of 4,000, a lavish shopping mall, plus of course the Al Faisaliah Tower and The Globe.
The development of Al Faisaliah Centre was inspired and created by the King Faisal Foundation and all of the profits generated by the centre’s facilities support the foundation’s international scientific, cultural and community programmes. By combining the enlightened philanthropy of the foundation with the practical features of the centre itself, Al Faisaliah has come to touch the lives of individual men and women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and throughout the world.
The centres makes a profound architectural statement: the 875-foot tower has transformed Riyadh’s skyline, and for those at ground level the imaginative use of space has re-invigorated the traditional urban concept of balance and interaction in a place where people work, live and relax.
The centre was also designed by Lord Norman Foster. Of his creation, he spoke: “Image is always an important part of my design philosophy. The opportunity to create Riyadh’s and Saudi Arabia’s first skyscraper was also a tremendous responsibility. I wanted to come up with a concept that was not only original but one that the community would be proud of in years to come.”
And in this goal he has certainly succeeded. Not only has Al Faisaliah Centre transformed the character and perception of the capital, it has brought to Riyadh new concepts about space, architecture and living that other developments can only strive to match.
The centre is owned and operated by Al Khozama Managemt Company, which is headed by HH Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Khalid, who is widely credited for setting a new benchmark for excellence in Saudi Arabian hospitality.
As a founding member of the King Faisal Foundation, his particular interest lies in elevating the standards of hospitality within his Kingdom, as well as ensuring that the travel and tourism industry serves as a catalyst for social betterment.
At this year’s World Travel Awards HH Prince Bandar was awarded “Middle East Travel Personality of the Year”, in recognition of the pivotal role he continues to play in the ongoing growth and development of hospitality and tourism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region.
He has also been instrumental in raising standards in education in the Kingdom, both in general and with regards to tourism, and most recently has led the assigned Consultancy Committee within the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, to study and recommend hotel classification and pricing guidelines for incorporation by more than 1,100 hotels in the Kingdom.
AKMC has been largely responsible for redefining luxury Arabian hospitality in the Kingdom. It is the only company in the hospitality sector to hold such assets of quality within a wide-ranging portfolio – from leisure resorts and business hotels to those in religiously significant locations of Makkah and Madinah Al Munawarra.
Since 1995 AKMC has been the trendsetter in the development and management of luxurious commercial properties in key locations across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East.
Combining smart investment in prime properties, outstanding vision for tomorrow’s trends and an innovative approach to management, AKMC is consistently establishing the benchmark in both operational and aesthetic standards.
Saudi hotels and resorts celebrate Ramadan
Hotels and resorts across the Kingdom are rolling out a variety of innovative programmes during the fasting month of Ramadan.
During this 30 day period when fasting is practised in daylight hours, Ramadan tents put up by five-star hotels targeting families and large groups who wish to break the fast in style.
The Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh offers a spectacular Ramadan tent each year, with an extensive range of culinary delights on offer at its tent and other outlets during the holy month.
Since it opened in 2003, the property has garnered a reputation throughout the city and beyond for the excellence and sheer variety of its food.
“With the widest range of cuisine offered this year, guests are guaranteed a gastronomic experience to remember. Our food and beverage team will continue to surprise even the most discerning of diners during the holy month of Ramadan,” explains Greg Pirkle, general manager of the hotel.
Many properties around Saidi host iftar parties for individuals and companies, serving popular dishes.
Prizes are also distributed to draw the maximum number of clients to these tents. Arabic celebrities and film stars are known to attend these events.