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The ‘Heart of Islam’ beckons tourists from all over the world

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SG| April 19,2017|Hassan Cheruppa

THE Saudi ‘Vision 2030’ is based on three pillars, of which the first one is the Kingdom’s status as the heart of the Arab and Islamic world. While unveiling the Vision, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, emphasized that the Kingdom will do its utmost to ensure that Muslims from around the world can visit the Holy Sites. “We recognize that Allah the Almighty has bestowed on our land a gift more precious than oil. Our Kingdom is the Land of the Two Holy Mosques, the most sacred sites on earth, and the direction of the Kaaba (Qibla) to which more than a billion Muslims turn at prayer,” he said while asserting “Our vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method.”

Underlining the essence of the Vision 2030, the Deputy Crown Prince said: “Our nation is the core of the Arab and Islamic worlds and represents the heart of Islam. We are confident that, God willing, we will build a brighter future, one based on the bedrock of Islamic principles. We will continue to excel in performing our duties towards pilgrims to the fullest and promote our deep-rooted national identity.”

The principles of Islam will be the driving force for the Kingdom to realize its great Vision. The values of moderation, tolerance, excellence, discipline, equity, and transparency will be the bedrock of its success. In this scenario, religious tourism attains top priority in the Vision 2030 as the Kingdom has the privilege to serve the Two Holy Mosques, the pilgrims and all visitors to the blessed holy sites. In serving Umrah pilgrims, Saudi Arabia has assumed a prominent place in the world and has become synonymous with hospitality and a warm welcome to all Muslims.

In the last decade, the number of Umrah visitors entering the country from abroad has tripled, reaching eight million people. The Vision envisages enriching pilgrims’ spiritual journeys and cultural experiences while in the Kingdom. The Kingdom’s priorities in the Vision with regard to attracting religious tourists include setting up of more world-class museums, preparing new tourist and historical sites and cultural venues, and improving the pilgrimage experience within the Kingdom in its capacity as a treasure trove of Islamic heritage, and historical sites. The Vision aims to increase the Kingdom’s capacity to welcome 30 million Umrah pilgrims in place of the current annual figure of 8 million.

The highlight of religious tourism in the Vision will be augmented by the ambitious initiative of Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). Prince Sultan Bin Salman, president of SCTH, recently said that the Post Umrah Program is a key part of ‘The Kingdom is destination of Muslims’ initiative. He said the program aims at enabling Umrah performers to see the country’s landmarks, historical sites, tourist attractions and shopping centers. They might also opt to make cultural, medical, educational and shopping tours, visit exhibitions and attend conferences after having completed Umrah, he said. “We want to link a Muslim to his roots — religiously, culturally and emotionally,” he said, adding, that it is never just an economic or financial project. He cited the procedure of automatic conversion of an Umrah visa to a tourist one, which was once subject to discussion with several agencies. Non-Umrah visa holders could also avail themselves of the opportunity to join the Post Umrah Program.

Khaled Almaeena, Saudi Gazette’s Editor at Large and managing partner of QUARTZ Communications, said that the Vision can turn into reality with its implementation takes its course at the hands of qualified and right people.
Pilgrims from all over the world have to get a chance to see the vast treasure of ancient Islamic historic and heritage sites across the Kingdom.
The Vision will be a golden opportunity to project and display the richness of Islamic culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia in front of the Muslims from every nook and corner of the world. “It is unfortunate that many historic and heritage sites have been removed. However, the serious efforts being made by SCTH to preserve the remaining ones are extremely commendable. Apart from highlighting the cultural treasures, the Vision will also provide an added economic value for the Kingdom, which is keen on reducing the dependence on oil and diversifying its sources of revenue.”

Madinah Munawwarah 2014 - 01On his part, Dr. Siddeek Ahmed, chairman and managing director of Eram Group & ITL World, congratulated the great visionaries of the Kingdom for formulating the Vision 2030, since it would be beneficial not only for the Saudi citizens but also to the expatriates as well. He specially thanked Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, the architect of the Vision and the National Transformation Program (NTP). “In my humble point of view, change is inevitable in every 15 to 20 years in all sectors. The proper understanding of the real pulse of the people and economy plays a key role while formulating the concept of revamping. Focusing on non oil revenue is highly recommended and a special thrust on post Umrah tourism is indeed a very good idea,” he said while underscoring that the blend of traditional values with a modern and global outlook is ideal for the Kingdom’s tourism.
Ahmed also stressed the need to create awareness globally about the Kingdom’s Islamic archeological treasures and rich tradition, most of which are among the unexplored areas. The proposed World’s best Islamic museum in Riyadh is significant in this respect. “Saudi Arabia’s road, rail and air connectivity are a big plus point. The tourism expense such as transportation, recreation, food & beverage, restaurants and hotels is minimum compared to other tourism destinations in Middle East, which is an added value for the Kingdom’s religious tourism sector.

Ahmed noted that Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University is the largest university for women in the world, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) boasts of having the fastest growing research and citation records in the world, which are unaware to most of the world unfortunately. Educational voyage, MICE and Experience Saudi are the other areas, which can give importance in regard to tourism sector. Also sports tourism is another area, which Kingdom can focus.

In the implementation stage, consulting and opinion gathering with the other stakeholders like tourism operators and travel agents are very important to understand the real pulse of the foreign travelers. Conducting seminars even in other countries through Saudi embassies are also needed to create awareness. Ahmed suggested of appointing an official spokesman for the Pilgrim tourism updates. Authorized travel agents can also propagate with the marketing collaterals to their customers, he said. “No doubt Saudi Arabia is the world Muslims’ destination besides its role as a peace maker. Being an owner of a travel management company I extend my wholehearted support to the country which gave me all good blessings,” he added.
Mohammed Alungal, president of Al-Abeer Group, congratulated Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for his bold and excellent initiative to come out with the Vision 2030, which will bring about remarkable positive changes in all spheres of Saudi life, benefitting both Saudis and expatriates. “The Vision’s thrust on tapping full potential of religious tourism will be a great service to the Islamic Ummah as a whole. Pilgrims from various parts of the world can benefit from the positive merits of tourism in the Kingdom unlike many other Muslim countries. Muslim tourists who prefer destinations such as Dubai are not in a position to enjoy this religious aspect of tourism,” he said while emphasizing that the Vision will unearth the huge non-oil economic potential of Saudi Arabia, which sits on the world’s largest oil reserve. Alungal sees bright future for health and medical tourism in the Kingdom. He also called for a thrust in the higher education sector and opening of off campuses of world-class universities. “The proposed Green Card will be a boost for many expatriate investors to pump their investments into the Kingdom’s vital sectors,” he said adding that he wants to grab the Green Card whenever it started issuing for the expatriates.

Khalid Al-Dabbagh, who served at Saudi Aramco and Royal Commission in Yanbu for more than three decades, said that the Vision 2030 has been instrumental in shifting the priorities of Saudi people who hitherto had the assumption that oil is everything in their life. Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer and exporter, is now going to sell part of its stake so as to ensure the Saudi citizens’ participation, besides ensuring more transparency in its overall functioning, and of course, it is a fabulous initiative, Al-Dabbagh said. The entire Saudi nation appreciates the bold initiative of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for presenting this excellent blueprint. “The Vision is now the talk of the entire nation, and everywhere — on streets, markets, offices, city squares, as well as on television and social media — the Vision is the hot topic of discourse,” he said noting that Saudis in all corners of the globe also talking about the prospect of a shining future of the Kingdom, to be brought about by the Vision 2030. “Now we are preparing ourselves to take up Vision 2030, besides preparing our kids to embrace it.” According to Al-Dabbagh, Muslims all over the world would be the beneficiaries of this great initiative. “The pilgrims from all over the world can benefit from the benefits of religious tourism and post Umrah program. It shows the visitors what the birthplace of Islam keeps in its trove for them.

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