Interview with Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh, Chief Market Officer – Asia Pacific, Saudi Tourism Authority

India our top source market
/ New Delhi
Interview with Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh, Chief Market Officer – Asia Pacific, Saudi Tourism Authority

In the next few years, up to 2030, there is over USD 800 billion dollars that has been earmarked for investment in tourism ecosystem

As part of its ambitious plan to increase tourist arrivals, Saudi Arabia is counting on the Indian market to play a significant role, Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh, Chief Market Officer – Asia Pacific, Saudi Tourism Authority, tells India Outbound.
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Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh

Alhasan Ali Aldabbagh

What does India mean to Saudi Tourism?

India means a lot to us. We have identified certain source markets and we have identified India as one of the top sources. In fact, I would go out and say India today is our top source market. We have ambitious plans for Saudi and we are targetting to hit 100 million visits by 2030. And a lot of this, we are planning to get from India. So, we care a lot about establishing this strong connection with Indian trade partners. We are also very keen on connecting with the Indian people, building the Saudi brand so we can understand the changes that are happening and we can understand which are the different destinations within Saudi that we are sure that Indian tourists will enjoy in experiencing.

How many Indians visited Saudi before pandemic and how many now?

Before the pandemic we used to get around 2.9 million visitors from India, those who have residence in Saudi Arabia, those going for business and people visiting their families or VFR. Now, since we have opened up leisure, we have just started to see some numbers coming in from India, but we believe with new regulations that we are preparing on the visas, this is really going to open the door wide where we can see much bigger numbers from India.

How do you propose to promote spiritual tourism to Saudi?

Beyond leisure, we are also focused on spiritual tourism and what we are hoping is to position the destination as spiritual plus or Umra plus. So people who want to come Saudi for Umra visit Mecca and Madina, the two holy sites. After that they can go visit other destinations in Saudi and extend their trip. So we are doing a lot of changes. First and foremost we can make the process of acquiring the Umra visa much easier, much more transparent, much more accessible and most importantly more cost effective than before. Earlier, it used to be a bit more complex, now there are specific authorised operators or agencies. Now we are making the market free where any tour operator can start building packages for Umra plus and sell those packages.

Beyond spiritual what are you looking at?

So, leisure is definitely a key focus for us. On the supply side, we are investing a lot in the destinations. In the next few years, up to 2030, there is over USD 800 billion dollars that has been earmarked for investment in tourism ecosystem. This includes the infrastructure of course, and cities like AlUla, Neom, Dead Sea. Each one of these cities is offering very unique proposition in the market and we are also upgrading the facilities and infrastructure within other destinations in Saudi.

The good thing is that Saudi offers a wide variety of different products. People who want to come for culture and heritage, we have a very good range for that. People who want adventure and sport, we have also a good range for that. In the near future, we will also be introducing sun and beach products that we believe are going to be very attractive in the Indian market. On the buyer side, we are also investing a lot in the Indian market with our partners, with the tour operators. We are investing in educating the trade and we are getting a lot of our trade partners to come and visit us in Saudi so that they can learn more about it. They can also connect with the stakeholders, interact with the hotels and design the right packages depending on what the Indian travellers are looking for.

Also ReadTourism in Saudi Arabia: GCC Giant Awakens.

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How important is cruise tourism?

We have started cruise tourism recently and we are doing very well. We have now packages for cruises that we will start to offer for all the markets, including the Indian market.

Islands of Neom

Islands of Neom

How do you plan to compete with your neighbours in GCC who are well positioned in India and what’s your USP?

It’s a very good question! No, we are not planning to compete, we are actually working together with them to create complementary packages. We believe that a lot of travellers, especially the Indian travellers, when they travel, they like to visit several destinations. For instance, when they travel to Europe, the tourists would visit 4-5 countries in the same trip. So we would like to do the same thing with the Middle East, we would like to create Middle East plus packages. So, people who go to the UAE, Oman or Jordan, they spend a couple of days there and then three nights in Saudi to complement the trip. In addition there is stopover programme for people going from India to Europe or the US which are big destinations for the Indian traveller, so they can stop by in Saudi on their way. So, we are working with the trade to create those packages.

What is the profile of an Indian traveller visiting Saudi Arabia?

So, definitely groups, families are among the main profiles that we are targetting. We believe that our destination is really set up in a way to host and please what families are looking for. People who are also travelling as we talked earlier for spiritual travel as well. This is part of the profile. People who are seeking cultural and heritage experiences are also part of the profile that we are targetting today. We think that we have the right bandwidth to provide the ultimate experiences.

Pilgrims visiting Mount Arafat

Pilgrims visiting Mount Arafat

How easy is it for leisure travellers from India to travel to Saudi now?

Basically, very soon we will introduce new systems that would facilitate leisure travel through authorised offices. This will come soon where it will make it very transparent, easy process and also cost effective. That is our plan going forward and we are working very closely with VFS and will be launching this very soon. Also, there is visa on arrival for Indian travellers with Schengen, UK or US visas after they have travelled once to those destinations and if they are using our national carrier Saudia, they can get visa on arrival.

Also ReadTourism in Saudi Arabia to grow fastest in Middle East: WTTC.

                    Saudi Arabia hosts largest executive council meet of UNWTO.

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