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Saudi setting the stage to go big in the India market

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undergone momentous changes from the time it opened its doors to tourists in 2019, keeping in line with its deeply ambitious Vision 2030. Now that this promising country is all set to become a big player on the international tourism stage, pivoting away from its rich oil sector and towards a more sustainable economy, the country is aiming high to showcase itself in the key tourism source markets- India being one of them. TravelScapes discovers a lot more about the destination’s promotion strategy in India, the USPs, and possibilities of increasing air connectivity in an exclusive chat with Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh, Chief Markets Officer- Asia Pacific, Saudi Tourism Authority

Saudi has gone through an amazing transformation and tourism indeed has been an important driver of growth for its future. It is one of the key pillars at the heart of their Vision 2030’s plan where the aim is to diversify the economy as well as welcome around 100 million visitors. Most recently, Saudi Arabia also moved ten places up to the 33rd position in the latest World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Travel and Tourism Development Index. Moving in line with this promising success, its vision and plan to present itself as a thrilling, new destination to the key source markets, Saudi Arabia has rolled out a set of strategies which includes the destination promotion plans in various key markets including India.

Raising the right kind of awareness among Indian travellers:

Taking into account that the travelling appetite of Indians is very encouraging, Saudi Arabia has embarked on ambitious marketing drives to boost inbound tourism to the Kingdom. Coming on the heels of Saudi’s successful showcase during SATTE 2022 followed by several key MoUs signed with Indian travel companies, Saudi Arabia Tourism Authority seeks to raise the right kind of awareness about Saudi amongst Indian travellers. “India is one of the top and the most important source markets for Saudi Arabia. Therefore, we are planning to invest a lot not only in the trade engagements with the country but also in a few other key areas, destination marketing being one of them. This is crucial for us since we want to raise the right level of awareness about Saudi as an ideal tourism destination,” Alhasan highlights.

Asked about how is Saudi readying itself to receive the Indian tourists, Alhasan informs, “We are consistently working on gaining confidence from the Indian travellers about Saudi and are making sure that every touch point that Indian traveller goes through, from landing-in to leaving Saudi Arabia, is truly delightful. Indians’ appetite to travel is very promising and they are always on the lookout to explore more. Keeping that in mind, we are promoting Saudi’s distinctive offerings that include various regions and cities, each of which has different topography, weather, culture and cuisines. We are also learning to understand what Indian travellers seek and are also working very closely with the key stakeholders and the travel trade associations who understand the Indian market well. They are guiding us on how we should plan the journeys in Saudi or how we should build experience-rich packages for the Indian travellers.” He adds, “All of this, not just requires investment but also the effort in prioritizing ideas we build on going forward.

Saudi’s potential to attract significant traveller segments:

The experts always believed that this promising country holds the potential to become a significant player in tourism as it aims to lure the travellers from every segment of the market. Apart from their bestsellers, Saudi now plans to turn the tables and welcome the fast-emerging segments.

Before COVID, there were about 27 million outbound travellers that explored Saudi Arabia a lot of which were groups, families, solo travellers seeking the beach activities and even those who are attracted by the culture and heritage. For the year ahead, we are targeting families, the growing middle class, students who are going back to universities and are stopping over in Saudi Arabia. Given the fact that Indians are well-acquainted with the Middle East, we are also aiming to loop in those travellers who are doing combination trips including visits to other Middle Eastern countries while visiting Saudi. We will also be working tactically to collaborate with Bollywood, bring in some crowd-pulling events like cricket matches, host high-profile weddings as we are fortunate to have the naturally-blessed landscapes and destinations that can be ideal for both the Indian weddings and film shootings,” Alhasan elaborates.

Talking about the bestselling attractions, he puts a spotlight on Saudi’s top favourite destination- AlUla and shares other unmissable experiences including Hegra Mountains and Jabal Al-Qarah Mountains. “There are a lot more gems that are yet to be discovered and we are steadily unpacking these gems and are all set to showcase them to our Indian tourists coming in,” Alhasan states.

Saudi: The shepherd to sustainable tourism

Just like the other Middle Eastern giants, Saudi Arabia is stepping up its efforts to become the forerunner in developing a sustainable model of tourism. This includes a huge investment of over USD 800 billion in the next 8 years that including the massive projects in the pipeline. Alhasan says, “Sustainability is at the core of our vision in 2030 and we have always strongly believed that we cannot be competitive on the global stage without having a sustainable strategy. Therefore, we are now planning to invest over USD 800 billion

in the next 8 years in the tourism eco-system which includes infrastructure projects such as the Red Sea Project aimed at counterbalancing any negative environmental impacts, Neom- a new city, Amaala – a tourism destination to be centered on wellness and culture. Further, AlUla is also planning to be carbon neutral by 2030 and other mega projects are in the offing. Each of these is unique in terms of value proposition and sustainability kept on the top of our mind.”

Air connectivity: another growth frontier

Alhasan elaborates that to date, Saudi has had a bilateral agreement of 56000 seats between India and Saudi out of which 28000 have been utilised with airlines like Saudia, flynas, Air India and IndiGo. Adding to that, he expectantly shares, “We are also working with other airlines to increase the number of slots and also look at adding the number of Indian cities into our portfolio of flight frequencies to Saudi Arabia. We are expecting a lot more this year in terms of augmented air connectivity as we are keen on developing more routes from India and growing them in coming years.



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