Alhasan Aldabbagh, Chief Markets Officer APAC, Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), sat down with ITB Asia News to outline how Saudi Arabia is presenting itself to the region
The kingdom’s approach has been developed in close cooperation with local trade partners and offers a full range of tourism products – also reflected by the destination’s stunning ITB Asia 2022 stand.
For starters, what’s new in 2022, what are you highlighting at ITB Asia?
It is our first participation at ITB Asia and we feel really thrilled. We are a new player on the market, as Saudi Arabia has been open for tourism only since a short time. We are here at ITB Asia with a loud message to the world, that Saudi Arabia certainly is one of the world’s most exciting destinations! Everyone is invited to come and see for themselves what we have to offer. We have an offer that is different to that of many countries, and I believe that the whole range of tourism products we promote – culinary, culture, history, nature or adventures – are a perfect fit for APAC markets.
What are the main source market trends for Saudi Arabia and how important is the Asia-Pacific region?
All Asia Pacific countries do interest us but we focus first on the markets which have large outbound travel markets, such as India, Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore. We already conducted many roadshows in destinations like Malaysia, India, Korea or Japan. But also Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. We see a strong appetite in these countries for our destination. We also want to reach out to countries which traditionally sent us pilgrims, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, to demonstrate that our country can also be a leisure destination.
Could you tell us about your Air Connectivity Programme and how this will boost tourist arrivals by 2030?
The Air Connectivity Programme aims at boosting air connections to Saudi Arabia. Our aim is to increase the number of air connections from currently 20 to 80. We provide some financial incentives for airlines but also work out ways to stimulate passengers traffic by working on affordable fares. This will help reach our Vision 2030 target of 55 million international travellers, of which 40% would from APAC.
How is your e-visa programme going and what are its benefits for travellers?
In APAC, nine countries are currently eligible for our e-visa programme. Among them are Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore as well as Australia and New Zealand. For other countries, we look at developing a shorter-term tourist visa, which will be more affordable, and plan to launch a free transit visa which allows travellers to spend up to 96 hours in our country.
What have you got in the pipeline for 2023?
2023 will definitely be a big year, and we will launch a global campaign. In APAC, this campaign will focus on main source markets such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea or Malaysia. The campaign will not only help educate the trade about how to sell our destination, but also reach a wider audience by inviting influencers and providing the right messages about Saudi Arabia. We expect you to come!
Building knowledge about Saudi Arabia
At ITB Asia, the Saudi Arabia stand also demonstrates STA’s website dedicated to transforming travel agents and tourism professionals into real ‘experts’ of the destination. The SaudiExpert website not only allows professionals to learn about Saudi Arabia’s natural, historical and cultural attractions, but it also offers support to create packages or promote specific offers. Part of the website also provides practical information, for example on the e-visa. Visitors to the stand can even directly apply for their e-visa via the screens on-site!