Saudi Arabia’s new tourism drive has created a significant shift in how hoteliers view the kingdom, the regional head of Marriott International has said.
Alex Kyriakidis said the kingdom’s authorities were focusing “big time” on religious tourism and domestic tourism, opening up exciting new opportunities for hotel developers and operators.
“We’re seeing the new Jabal Omar Development Company in the Holy cities almost rethink the development of the Holy cities with a view to facilitate greater visitation into the future, enhanced infrastructure – and so there is a massive bright light for us as operators in being part of that future strategy and the future success story of the Holy cities and pilgrimage to the kingdom,” Kyriakidis said.
“On the domestic front, we’re seeing developers switch their attention from upper upscale and luxury [properties] more to select service brands to enable domestic tourism.
“Saudis love to travel - there’s 30 million [in the] population … and there is a massive pent up demand for travel around the kingdom. So again, for us, we’re honing in on that market and we’re working with some of the biggest developers in the kingdom to enable that strategy.”
Several other international hoteliers also were paying greater attention to Saudi Arabia, while construction firms and contractors from other Gulf states are attempting to move into the kingdom.
“We’re now seeing for the first time, developers from other parts of the Gulf wanting to be part of the Holy cities’ success story,” Kyriakidis said.
Tourism has been identified as one of the seven pillars of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 document, which outlines how it aims to diversify its economy amid low oil revenues.
The sudden plummet in oil prices caused billions of dollars worth or projects to come to a halt as the government struggled to pay contractors. But Kyriakidis said problems in the kingdom’s construction industry had not affected Marriott properties.
However, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said the hotelier’s plans in Saudi Arabia were “a bit more modest” than three to four years ago, given the impact of lower oil prices on the kingdom’s economy.
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