Hajj, Umrah, Tourism, as the Saudi Arabia’s “New Oil.”

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The Saudi Arabian government continues to boost its country’s tourism potential, targeting Indonesian tourists.

Saudi Arabian Tourism Authority Asia Pacific Market President Alhasan Aldabbagh

Saudi Arabia has always been a destination for Muslims from all over the world to worship by visiting Mecca and Medina. Religious tourism is attached to the country, apart from being known as a country that depends on oil as a source of income. However, this paradigm slowly shifted when the Saudi Arabian government realized the potential of its country, that tourism became the new “oil” for its coffers of wealth.

Ambitious targets have been set, in line with the mega projects that the Saudi Arabian government has begun to build. The following is Kompas’s interview with the Saudi Arabian Tourism Authority, Asia Pacific Market President for Saudi Arabia Alhasan Aldabbagh.

Can you explain more deeply about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030?

The concept has been around for some time now, precisely since 2016. There are several layers to the concept, but the core of it refers to tourism. We have significant goals to make Saudi Arabia a top global destination.

During this time, people come to Saudi to perform hajj and umrah. Now, we have opened Saudi to the world to come and explore further while holidaying and other major activities.

In this regard, Indonesia is an important market for Saudi Arabia. We note around 100,000 travelers for Umrah and Hajj every year.

Last year, in 2023, we recorded 1.5 million Indonesians traveling to Saudi Arabia. This year, we are targeting 2.2 million Indonesian travelers. However, the difference is that we want Indonesian society, especially those from the A and B economic classes, to spend their vacation time in Saudi Arabia.

They can perform Umrah while exploring various parts of Saudi Arabia. There are many other destinations that can be explored. There are also “hidden gems” in Saudi Arabia with historical and cultural richness, as well as various entertainment options for families.

Why does Saudi Arabia now want to focus on tourism beyond religious attractions?

Tourism is the future. We have a vision to diversify the economy not only from oil. Tourism is truly a new “oil” for us.

We are aware that Saudi Arabia has interesting corners that are yet to be known by the world. We want to highlight this. Additionally, the Saudi community warmly welcomes travelers. This is very important if we want to play host to many people.

Muslims gathered and prayed around the Kaaba at the Masjidil Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, Friday (5/4/2024).

When we have a healthy movement of tourists inbound, that phenomenon creates diversity. This diversity creates opportunities, providing space for many people to connect with each other, even from various nationalities. This can open up business opportunities in collaboration between science, education, arts and culture.

This is also reflected in society, including the quality of life for everyone. Tourism is a gateway and a catalyst to boosting all of those positive impacts. That is why tourism is an important aspect.

How important is the Indonesian market for Saudi Arabia?

Indonesia is very important to us. It is one of the largest countries in the world, with a large population, dominated by young people. Around 50 percent or more are around 30 years old. This means that Indonesia is a very dynamic country with a bright future. Indonesia’s economy is strong and growing.

Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have strong historical, social, and economic ties. We are aware that millions of people travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. Consequently, they can be encouraged to explore various other places in Saudi Arabia. Indonesia is a potential market for Saudi Arabia.

Apart from Saudi Arabia, many Indonesians travel abroad. Indonesia is a “healthy” market for traveling abroad. They go to Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Hong Kong, and Macau. We know that they are willing to spend more than four hours traveling to go on vacation. That is why Indonesia is an important market for us.

Hajj pilgrims from all over the world gather in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia on August 20, 2018 for the series of hajj rituals. Some of the pilgrims can be seen climbing Jabal Rahmah.

What does the Saudi Arabian government offer, apart from Umrah and Hajj?

We call it “umrah+”. You can come to perform umrah while also engaging in various other activities. You can choose to engage in activities around Mecca and Medina, such as spiritual activities, delving deeper into the history of Islam, the history of the prophets, and the relatives of the prophets. Important events since the Islamic wars, the biographies of the prophets, and related museums can be further explored. This is closely related to knowing more deeply about the Kaaba.

When visitors have more time, we highly recommend traveling outside of Mecca and Medina. Travelers can explore Jeddah with its buildings that are over 1,000 years old, of course accompanied by trying local foods and shopping there.

Furthermore, you can visit Al-Ula, which is very special. Some Indonesian celebrities have recently visited Al-Ula. We hope that more Indonesian people will come to visit, as there is also an open-air museum that presents mountain landscapes with luxury hotels.

Various activities can be tried, including camping in the desert and lighting a bonfire under a blanket of stars. Sand hill exploration can also be done there.

The capital city of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, has a calendar full of activities. Some of them are sports events, entertainment, music, and arts. There are also amusement parks that are open all year round. These facilities can be a suitable destination for families as a form of entertainment to spend time.

Two women are taking pictures in the Al-Ula region, a UNESCO world heritage site in northwest Saudi Arabia, on February 19, 2023.

Who are the targets of the Saudi Arabian Government’s tourism sector?

We have two targets for Indonesia. First, people who come for the Umrah pilgrimage. However, we aim for them to not only come for Umrah, but also to explore many places in Saudi Arabia, such as other spiritual sites.

Saudi Arabia is open to anyone, regardless of religion.

Currently, it is easy for anyone to perform umrah or spend free time, regardless of the type of visa they have. You can obtain an umrah visa, but you can also spend time outside of Mecca and Medina. Travelers are allowed to do so. Similarly, when someone holds a vacation visa, they can also take a vacation while performing umrah.

Saudi Arabia is open to anyone, regardless of their religion. The primary target is indeed Muslims, but families are also a target. Everyone is welcomed in Saudi Arabia.

A man walking around the Ancient Nabataean tomb carved into the archaeological site of Al-Hijr (Hegra), located in the northwestern region of Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.

As a potential market, what conveniences can Indonesian people get in visiting Saudi Arabia?

Currently, traveling is easier than ever before. Every year, we continue to improve the ease of coming to Saudi Arabia, including making it easier to obtain visas. These efforts will continue in the future.

Travelers can obtain it through official travel agency partners that they desire as their umrah operator. I am sure that there are more than 2,000 umrah operators in Indonesia, so travelers can get umrah packages along with visas according to their wishes.

Now, we are extending the duration of visa validity from 30 days to 90 days. Additionally, one can obtain a holiday visa or a tourist visa. Visa registration can be done through visa facilitation service (VFS) offices available in several locations, including Jakarta, Aceh, Balikpapan, and Makassar. We are planning to open additional VFS branches.

Nowadays, it is easy for people to get a holiday visa because the registration process is not long-winded. We have reduced a number of visa requirements to make it easier. People can get a visa through multiple entry purposes (multiple entry). As I explained before, you can use it as you wish.

Even though you have a business visa, you can still perform Umrah. We’ve also introduced other ways to simplify this kind of thing. For example, if someone has a United States or United Kingdom or Schengen visa, and then has used it once, then he is entitled to a visa on arrival (visa on arrival). We have implemented this for Indonesia 1.5 years ago.

Guests attended the launch of a new tourism visa in Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 27, 2019. Saudi Arabia announced that it is offering tourist visas for the first time, opening up the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom to tourists as part of efforts to diversify its economy away from oil.

We have also introduced a stopover visa which allows a person to stay in Saudi for 96 hours. The validity is valid for 90 days from the time the visa is issued. If someone travels from Indonesia to Europe, for example, then stops temporarily in Saudi with Saudi Arabian Airlines. We have direct flights from Jakarta to Jeddah, then on to Europe.

Therefore, they can obtain a 96-hour visa-free stay. During those four days, travelers are free to do anything in Saudi Arabia. They can perform Umrah, vacation, or both.

What cooperation has been established between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia in the tourism sector?

We plan to hold intergovernmental meetings (government to government) with several parties. Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al Rabiah will lead this delegation. We are always exchanging information with Indonesian authorities to understand the specific requirements for Indonesian travelers interested in Saudi. The hope is that we can support and facilitate their needs.

In addition to intergovernmental discussions, we are also in talks with many Indonesian travel agency companies, both umrah operators and recreational operators. In this way, we can ensure the needs of Indonesian travelers are met so that we can adjust our offers and promotions accordingly.

We are also currently building partnerships with several airlines, including Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia, to improve connectivity. We always strive to increase the frequency of direct flights between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia routes.

Source: kompass.id

Currently, we have 83 direct flights between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. However, we plan to increase the frequency to at least 202 direct flights in the near future, within two months. We hope that this target can be achieved by 2024.

More direct flights mean more connected cities. We aim to connect Surabaya (East Java), Medan (North Sumatra), and other cities to Saudi Arabia. Higher numbers of direct flights can lower ticket prices as seat capacity increases.

What are the mega projects being built by the Saudi Arabian Government?

There are a number of big cities in our main design, such as Neom and Al Suda Park. However, the project that is currently being opened is one that people can book in the area of Red Sea Global. This object is an ambitious project that includes 50 resorts. Two of them have already opened, namely Six Senses Southern Dunes and St Regis Resort.

In this area, travelers can try snorkelingand diving. They can see various rare animals, such as turtles. There are also hotels that offer natural beauty in the middle of the desert. The Red Sea area is targeted at the upper class because of its luxury.

At least in the next two months, we will be able to increase the frequency to 202 direct flights.

Nevertheless, there are also a number of more affordable tourist destinations for the middle class. This can be found in Jeddah, for example, with three and four-star hotels.

We aim to attract as many people as possible. We provide affordable experiences with measured accommodation. However, we also seek travelers who require exclusive experiences with full luxury.

Also read: Seeing Changes in Saudi Arabia





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