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Pause … and take a look at how holidays are being transformed

Visitors and tourism professionals alike can benefit from witnessing Saudi Arabia's efforts to develop its unique and authentic travel industry

The desert in Ha'il, northwest Saudi Arabia. The kingdom also has beaches, ancient ruins and holy sites Unsplash/Rabah Al Shammary
The desert in Ha'il, northwest Saudi Arabia. The kingdom also has beaches, ancient ruins and holy sites

The Middle East is leading the recovery in international travel, with inbound arrivals to the region up 4 percent in Q4, far ahead of a global decrease of 30 percent, according to analyst ForwardKeys.

This can largely be attributed to the World Cup in Qatar but even in the first quarter of 2022, international arrivals to the region were up 15 percent on pre-pandemic figures.

Saudi Arabia had 70 million visits in 2022 and the fastest-growing tourism industry in the G20, growing by 121 percent this year. It has also issued millions of tourist e-visas since 2019 and is investing more than $800 billion to develop the sector.

What has driven visitors’ appetite for Saudi Arabia in particular? There are two answers: the diversity of what can be experienced and how that diversity can elevate the individual experience.

Millions of tourists and religious pilgrims visit the Middle East every year for its ancient ruins, spectacular architecture, beautiful beaches, important holy sites and vibrant cities. Saudi Arabia offers mountains, coastal resorts and heritage sites – destinations for every type of traveller. But the difference from many other sites is in what each one offers by way of experience.

Travellers have emerged from the restrictions of the past few years with a yearning for something new, something more extraordinary to experience and to show their friends back home.

Destinations in Saudi Arabia have identified this trend – and restaurants, hotels and other tourism businesses are transforming the kingdom into a staging ground for these encounters.

The work done by the Ministry of Tourism, the Saudi Tourism Authority and the entities responsible for the development of the giga-projects, including my own in Diriyah, are taking broader strategic steps to position Saudi Arabia as a destination that creates a unique and authentic sense of place.

This is one of my strongest predictions for 2023. Deeper, more meaningful experiences are being sought by tomorrow’s travellers. Travel will be slower, allowing visitors to breathe and take in their surroundings as part of a profound cultural experience.

Those in today’s tourism industry should learn from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Diriyah will be on the global map as a crossroads of culture, arts, science and commerce. It will be the world’s largest mud-brick city and one of the world’s culture and heritage capitals. It is an authentic, fitting tribute to the immense historical legacy it represents. We aspire to develop Diriyah into one of the world’s greatest gathering places by creating rich experiences that narrate the stories of its history and instil a sense of pride among Saudis.

To succeed in 2023, the travel and tourism industry needs to focus on marketing destinations in a way that does not simply explain what prospective visitors will see but instead makes them think about how their trip to that place will change them. Destinations should evoke a sense of emotional longing and an image of inspiration, encouraging the idea of a life-changing experience.

I encourage everyone to come to Saudi Arabia and see for themselves what we are getting right, so together we can help our industry recover and grow.

Jerry Inzerillo is group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority and sits on the board of directors of the Saudi Tourism Authority