Saudi Arabia is rapidly diversifying its economy. The country has a long-term vision focusing on growing tourism and a goal to have 100 million visitors to the country by 2030 and has been making major investments toward this goal.
The global market is asking for a new type of tourism where technology, wellness, and sustainability are at the forefront. Olivier Harnish, Senior Strategy Advisor, Ministry Of Tourism throws some light on these aspects of tourism as a prelude to his, more detailed presentation and panel discussion at the 12th Edition Real Estate Development Summit Saudi Arabia on 2nd and 3rd of November, 2022.
1.The recent announcement by the Ministry, aims at attracting 100 million tourists a year by 2030. What are the strategic efforts being undertaken to achieve this feat?
By observing the development and promotional activities which are currently underway in the Kingdom, one can clearly see the magnitude of the overall undertaking. Given its cultural and geographic richness, Saudi Arabia has the potential to become one of the premier global travel destinations within a short time. The number of tourism and hospitality projects, including hotels, golf courses etc., that are under development is second to none in the world. In addition, the Kingdom is building a world class infrastructure to support this future supply. There are also numerous activities ongoing to let the world know about what is happening in Saudi Arabia. Finally, the human capital factor is also a critical one. There is a tremendous effort to prepare the labor market for this sharp increase in tourism demand. Overall, it is great to see that there is a strategic approach to it and that it is a concerted effort between all stakeholders.
2.By far, the media focus has been constantly on the luxury and ultra-luxury segments of tourism in KSA. Is there also emphasis on the budget travel as is mostly favored by the younger population?
The media generally tends to focus on luxury and ultra-luxury projects, as these developments are more spectacular and generate more interest within their audience. This trend is observable throughout the world. However, all segments are being considered in developing the destination Saudi Arabia. There will be a rich variety of properties ranging from ultra-luxury to mid-market, not forgetting boutique and lifestyle projects. All segments and types of customers will find offerings appealing to them and that includes the millennials.
3.There is a great deal of outbound tourism and thus, their spend going out of the country, and with more and more countries relaxing the rules for Saudi nationals, what’s your strategy to boost the local tourism?
In my view the Saudi nationals are well aware of the touristic richness of their country and hence will naturally spend much of their leisure time within the Kingdom as more and more national destinations develop their infrastructure and tourism offerings. Saudi Arabia is in the fortunate position to have on the one hand a large population which will generate a strong base demand. On the other hand, its geographic location makes it reachable within an 8 hours flight for two thirds of the world’s population. This will generate strong external demand.
4.In terms of technology, as that’s also a topic you are speaking of at the 12th Edition RED Summit in Riyadh, what’s your take on its importance in new-age tourism and what tangible effects does it have on attracting more business?
Technology is a tremendous enabler in tourism and hospitality. With the help of technology, we are able to elevate our services by knowing our existing and future customers better and by delivering more seamless services. Look at a typical guest journey and the various steps which it includes. It is filled with pain points or friction points as we call them. These can be for example unnecessary waiting times such as check-in lines, or repetitive activities such as always ordering a special type of pillow or customizing the in-room entertainment system. Technology can help eliminate all those pain points and improve the flow of the guest journey.
5.Since the hospitality sector greatly depends on the human-touch and experiential part of the service, don’t you think, technology will affect this greatly?
I am very confident that technology will not replace humans in tourism and hospitality. The robot hotel or fully automated hotel without staff will remain a niche. Hospitality and tourism are industries focused on delivering experiences. And humans excel at that. Humans have the ability to creatively delight other humans time and time again. Technology or machine cannot do that. Yes, a new technological feature can impress us once or twice, but we quickly get used to it. It then becomes expected. It no longer creates delight. However, when it doesn’t work it creates dissatisfaction. Think about when you had your first smart phone, how quickly you got used to its functionalities. With humans it is different. The same waiter for example, can repeatedly delight you with outstanding, personalized service. However, technology is able to support humans in delivering even better services, for example by helping to remember the guest’s preferences.
6.You are attending GBB’s Real Estate Development Summit 2nd time in a row. What’s been your previous experience and what is it that you expect from this edition?
The previous event was excellent. I enjoyed the interactions, the engaging conversations, and the interesting panels. I expect the same in the next summit. In these times it is important to come together and share, talk about all the opportunities which exist in the Kingdom. Doing it in a web conference would just not be the same. This is another example where technology does not replace humans. However, technology will help GBB put together a spectacular event. I look forward to it.
Olivier Harnish, Senior Strategy Advisor, Ministry Of Tourism Saudi Arabia is the Advisory Board Member & the Speaker at the Real Estate Development Summit – Saudi Arabia taking place on 2nd – 3rd November in Voco Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.