JEDDAH: As the pandemic appears to be receding and the global travel industry comes to life, Saudi Arabia is bringing in heavyweights to help promote the country to an international audience seeking new horizons to explore.
In much of the world, tourists are becoming aware of new travel protocols and countries are finding new strategies to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Others, like Saudi Arabia, are exploiting the relatively new concept of “domestic tourism”, while welcoming international visitors who wish to discover hidden gems.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Gloria Guevara Manzo, new Chief Special Advisor to Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, said the Kingdom’s young tourism sector has the opportunity to redefine its tone and strategies with the assistance of key partners the private and public sectors of the Kingdom as well as international partners.
Manzo, former CEO and Chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), has over 25 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry.
As Mexico’s tourism secretary from 2010 to 2012, she oversaw a number of key transformations, dealing with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis and the H1N1 pandemic a year later, both of which severely affected the ‘industry.
Manzo has succeeded in turning the industry around, making Mexico a global tourism hotspot and creating a major generator of jobs.
As the first woman to lead the WTTC since its inception in 1991, she was responsible for transforming the organization, leading a global effort to unite the tourism industry and encourage it to speak with one voice.
His recent appointment comes at a crucial time as the Kingdom prepares to reopen its doors to international travelers.
After visiting the Kingdom in 2019 as part of the ‘Open Saudi, Open Hearts, Open Portes’ event and the launch of a new tourist visa program, Manzo told Arab News that she finds the culture welcoming and welcoming. saw “enormous potential”.
“I was very impressed with what I saw in 2019 and the commitment, of course, to the industry, and that’s what got me excited. I see an incredible opportunity to make Saudi Arabia one of the premier destinations in the world because it has the assets, it has the people, it has everything. So I am very happy with this opportunity to be part of this new transformation. “
The Kingdom opened its borders to international tourists in September 2019 with a target of 100 million visitors by 2030, and has since announced a number of mega-projects to attract travelers, as well as new tourism investments of a worth SR 220 billion ($ 58 billion), and a fund of $ 530 million to develop key destinations across the country.
But 2020 had a series of challenges that delayed many projects for the Kingdom’s budding sector. However, with sufficient collaborative effort, experts believe the Kingdom can rebound faster than many European and other advanced economies.
“One of the biggest challenges in 2020 was not just the pandemic, it was the lack of international coordination or the opportunity for more international coordination and public and private collaboration in many countries,” said Manzo .
“Now the good news is that we are leaders. Thank goodness Arabia was the president of the G20 because being president of the G20 has helped us foster this collaboration. Ahmed Al-Khateeb made history and Saudi Arabia made history because for the first time it invited the private sector, 45 CEOs, to meet with tourism leaders. And Saudi Arabia made history because for the first time it was included in the declaration. And that was very important because before that, as I said, collaboration was a challenge.
Manzo believes the Kingdom has become a leader, building bridges and encouraging collaboration, which is crucial for global recovery.
Following the easing of last year’s lockdown, Kingdom residents are rediscovering the Kingdom’s attractions, which has helped soften the shock.
According to Manzo, the industry can stay afloat by investing in assets from its own backyard.
“Tourism in Saudi Arabia is very young. The launch took place in 2019. We are still creating interesting and iconic destinations, such as NEOM, Red Sea Company, AlUla and others. But I believe we already have an interesting offer for international travelers which is very attractive, ”she said.
Saudi Arabia has opened several international tourism boards in major countries, targeting 28 markets as part of a global marketing campaign, but a number of challenges remain: Sustainability is key to the sector’s success, but the accelerating digital transformation and collaboration with SMEs will help ensure continued international collaboration.
Having worked extensively in the private and public sectors, Manzo said that one of the benefits of jobs in tourism is mobility. Travel accounted for 10% of global income and one in 10 jobs depended on the sector.
“The good news is that here we have a lot of potential and we have multiple sectors. And tourism offers great opportunities and jobs. The interesting thing is that people don’t have to move. The beauty of tourism is that you can create jobs in your city, in your destination. For example, you live in Jeddah, it’s an amazing city, a beautiful city that can accommodate a lot of visitors and create a lot of opportunities for people, ”she added.