All countries surrounding Saudi Arabia are smaller in size, but boost their tourism sectors with large cultural events. The allure of nearby Dubai also boosts outbound tourism numbers.
At the beginning of this short mid-semester school break, local tourism is in full swing, with destinations alluring citizens, residents and visitors to the country with programs and activities, but not everyone is convinced of the country’s attractiveness.
Recently, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) launched a promotional campaign with the slogan “Saudi Arabia … live it, discover it”. The campaign aims to promote local tourism destinations in Riyadh, Hail, Qassim, Eastern Province, Jazan and Jeddah, as those locations are distinguished with recreation activities and fairs.
However, some say the programs and activities are not convincing. “Local tourism is not included in my priorities, except the religious places and events,” said Abdullah Al-Sunini to a local newspaper. He said the high prices of rents and entertainment places are among the reasons for his view. Nonetheless, he applauded the recent entertainment festivals that attracted large numbers of visitors, although the activities were repetitive, such as the Aramco festival in Al-Ahsa.
As the mid-semester school vacation is short, many families seriously consider local tourism. The Eastern Province, in particular, is a popular option with its multiple choices. Its location near Bahrain, which is often included in the tourism schedule, makes it also a favored place.
“Tourism in the Eastern Province is our first choice,” said Adulsalam Al-Ajami from Riyadh, who said the cost of visiting neighboring Bahrain is as much as that of spending the vacation in Damman or Alkhobar.
Khalaf Mansour, another tourist, disagreed with Al-Ajami, saying, “Home tourism is still unattractive, although there are some distinguished places. When we visit a neighboring Gulf country, we witness the advanced tourism landmarks on taxis and outdoor advertisements, as well as the distinguished tourism programs and events that were planned previously to activate tourism there. It is not a matter of two or three months.” According to Mansour, the Kingdom lacks these elements.
He noted that hotels and apartments do not have any kind of brochures or leaflets containing tourism activities and programs, or even maps to show routes to reach entertainment places. “Just one visit to Manama or Dubai shows to what extent we are lagging behind.”
“The mid-semester vacation will explicitly show the reality of local tourism in the country, said Sanaa Al-Mumten. “Prices are high, and this is where I think the SCTA should take action, by posting the real prices of hotels and apartments so that any tourist can log in and compare them.” She added that Saudi citizens dream of spending their vacation inside their country, as it holds traditions and norms that respect their privacy. “We are in bad need of further tourism attractions, starting with encouraging tourism investments, raising awareness and creating a culture of local tourism. We should also study the successful experiences of neighboring countries.”