September is a big month for Saudi Arabia. Each year, Saudi National Day is celebrated on Sept. 23, but that is just one of the reasons Saudis are celebrating this year. On Sept. 27, 2019, the kingdom opened its borders to the world — kicking off its ambitious effort to usher in 100 million international visitors and increase its domestic travel.
Majed AlGhanim, managing director of tourism and quality of life at KSA’s General Investment Authority, said 77,000 e-visas were issued during the first month that the kingdom opened its borders. Thus far, collective feedback from international and domestic tourism has been positive According to Marcel Stephan, advisor of visitor experience at the Saudi Tourism Authority, more than 50 percent of people recommended Saudi Arabia to friends and family after their trips.
“The local hospitality is a core differentiator,” Stephan says. “We call it the Saudi Hafawah, and it is based on mastery, generosity and care.” He says that when looking at expectations and experience, “international tourists helped to set another level of standards that the Ministry of Tourism took into consideration in developing the offerings that serve locals and domestic tourism.”
While much of travel across the world is still on pause, Riyadh-based bespoke travel experience company The Traveling Panther is using this time to prepare for when tourism ramps back up. “For all the stress that has come with the coronavirus, there’s also been a small sense of relief — we feel more prepared than ever to deliver on our promise: creating unique luxury experiences for the conscious traveler,” company co-founder Fahda Bander Al-Saud told Arab News.
Traditional culture show during a National Day celebration in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
On Sept. 23, 1932, King Abdulaziz issued a royal decree to unite the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz as one under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although nearly 90 years have passed, Sept. 23 only became a national holiday in 2005 — it was the first public holiday not affiliated with a religious festival in the kingdom.
Since then, it’s been an annual event to celebrate the country’s heritage, culture and progress. Flags and decorations line the streets, and celebrations are planned throughout the country. Sept. 23 is also a date when major announcements have been made: from the launch of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology announced in 2009 to the world’s largest flagpole erected on this day by the Jeddah Municipality in 2014.
For travelers not visiting during National Day, get a dose of Saudi history at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. Discover history, art and culture, from viewing Neolithic rock art to embarking upon an interactive tour through the ages.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the At-Turaif District in Diriyah was founded in the 15th century as the first capital of the Saudi dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula northwest of Riyadh.
The kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals include enhancing the Saudi private sector to create a vibrant society, establishing a thriving economy via diversification, and investing in ways to position Saudi Arabia for global trade and competition. Tourism is at the heart of accomplishing much of this vision.
“We have set ourselves the mission to make the experience of visitors a top priority and improve year by year,” Stephan says. “That’s why we have founded a National Center of Visitor Experience.”
The center wants to identify experience gaps and improvement needs, bring together public and private sector entities in the kingdom to work on these needs as a team, establish unique and innovative Saudi-branded experience elements and introduce Saudi Arabia’s national and regional cultures to the world, among other goals.
Additionally, AlGhanim has noted that the country has much to offer and that the kingdom is looking forward to sharing these experiences with everyone.
“We have thousands of historical sites, five UNESCO World Heritage sites and then the developments will come to these areas as well,” he said recently. “We believe that 2030 is just the start.”
Check out some of the kingdom’s ecotourism efforts underway as a part of Vision 2030 on VisitSaudi.com.
Use VisitSaudi.com as your one-stop information hub on traveling to the kingdom. Search areas of interest in the toolbar at the top of the page, check out the wide variety of tour packages — from two days in Jeddah to a safari trip in Al Khobar — and learn how to begin registering for your Saudi tourist visa.
- By Lisa Zimmermann