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Mon 18 Mar 2019 08:50 AM

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Habib Al Mulla says AccorHotels CEO ignorant of Saudi culture

Sebastien Bazin said tourists visiting Saudi "may want to be able to drink"

Habib Al Mulla says AccorHotels CEO ignorant of Saudi culture
Dr Habib Al Mulla, a prominent Emirati lawyer and chairman of local law firm Baker McKenzie

Dr. Habib Al Mulla has denounced a statement by the global CEO of AccorHotels in which he claimed tourists visiting Saudi Arabia “may want to be able to drink.”

“… a destination means people want to live. They want to have fun. They want to be able to enjoy music. They may want to be able to drink. Maybe the [Saudi] government in place will allow it only in certain destinations…NEOM is one of the examples of what they will be exempting from many local rules,” CEO Sébastien Bazin said.

But Al Mulla, a prominent Emirati lawyer and chairman of local law firm Baker McKenzie, said on Twitter that “this statement reflects total ignorance of Saudi culture”.

AccorHotels’ Bazin had suggested the kingdom could learn “lessons” from regional tourist hubs such as Dubai.

“…That has to be in place, otherwise you won’t be attracting tourists. Dubai made it happen, so there are a lot of lessons to be taken from the Middle East,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion NEOM project, which is being built on the Red Sea coast, will welcome “all the living standards, all the living styles and community,” according to CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr. The project was unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 as the kingdom looks to diversify its economy away from oil and grow its tourism sector.

AccorHotels operates 48 hotels in Saudi Arabia, with brands such as Novotel, ibis, Pullman, Fairmont and others present in the kingdom.

Bazin said AccorHotels “need to be a part of” tourism growth in Saudi Arabia, as the country is ideally located four and a half hours away from Europe and boasts “a similar sea environment” to the Maldives and Seychelles.

“But you will have to actually achieve [and] go through many steps to make it happen,” he said.

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Esam Saber 1 years ago

I agree with Dr. Habib. Moreover, I believe new comers should pause a little until they understand the culture, history, and law of the land before they give advice. Knowing that there are always exceptions to a rule, however the vast majority of Saudis will not agree with Mr. Bazin. Saudi Arabia prides itself for a religious destination. If we ignore local sensitivities and history for a second and only talk "dollars and cents", there is no contest in GDP contribution between the two for the kingdom. The kingdom will not be able to position its tourism sector on both platforms at once (i.e. so Mr. Bazin would understand, can not be a Vatican and Las Vegas at once) otherwise will have neither.