Religious tourists travelling to Makkah for hajj and umrah can explore the country beyond pilgrimage sites, says Pascal Gauvin
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is targeting pilgrims for longer tourism stays in Saudi Arabia, according to Pascal Gauvin, its managing director in India, Middle East and Africa.
Speaking to Arabian Business, Gauvin said religious tourists travelling to Makkah for hajj and umrah can explore the country beyond pilgrimage sites.
“You have people from Malaysia or Indonesia coming to Makkah for pilgrimage, so what about staying another week and visiting other places besides only pilgrimage sites? The 2030 vision wants to use the country’s potential to make people stay more,” he said.
“Religious tourism is also very important as it has been for the past decades, but [Saudi Arabia] wants to grow the number of pilgrims [visiting]; that’s exciting for us. And when you see all the infrastructure they’re building around Makkah and Medina, they are getting ready for bigger sites on travel and tourism,” he added.
IHG was one of the first hoteliers to open in Saudi Arabia in 1975, and currently has 33 hotels across the kingdom. It is set to open 12 more over the next two years, including one in the Red Sea project announced in 2017 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Stretching across 30,000 km of islands and beaches, it will boast over 30,000 hotel rooms, an airport, marinas and recreation centres. It is aimed at attracting tourists and is expected to increase the kingdom’s GDP to $5.86 billion upon completion, whereby the first phase is expected to be finished by 2022.
Gauvin said IHG wants to bring its regular Middle East customers to new destination in the kingdom, including the $500 billion Neom project being built on the Red Sea coast.
“We want to work closely with the government to understand their needs, bring them the right brand, and use our network to bring our regular customers, who travel to the Middle East, to new destinations in Saudi Arabia. I’m sure people will be very attracted to visit and understand the destinations,” he said.
“…[tourists] can also go to Saudi Arabia for the Red Sea, Neom and other future projects like ancient sites in deserts. It’s still very attractive. You don’t have to do only one mono destination,” he said.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.