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With an ambitious strategy to increase visitors to more than 100 million annually by 2030, Saudi Arabia clearly doesn't want to be caught off guard with inadequate infrastructure.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Saudi Arabia announced its masterplan for King Salman International Airport — touted to be one of the world’s largest airports. Public Investment Fund, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, will build the more than 57 square kilometres airport, and it will include the current King Khaled airport. With plans for six parallel runways, and including the existing terminals, the airport aims to accommodate up to 120 million travelers by 2030. By 2050, the airport is expected to accommodate up to 185 million passengers and process 3.5 million tons of cargo. The masterplan would boost Riyadh’s position as a global logistics hub, stimulate transport, trade and tourism, and act as a bridge linking the East with the West. The new airport is expected to contribute $7 billion annually to the country’s non-oil gross domestic product and to create 103,000 direct and indirect jobs, in line with Saudi’s Vision 2030 objectives. The kingdom has plans to attract 100 million annual visits by 2030.

Even as Dubai-based Emirates airline expects to reach 100 percent capacity and its pre-pandemic network by next year, the carrier is now reimagining its retail experience with the debut of its Emirates World retail store in Dubai. Looking to invest $27 million, Emirates plans to roll out the retail store concept across the airline’s network over the next three years. The airline’s redesigned 3,000-square foot retail store in Dubai’s Jumeirah Town Centre gives customers access to Emirates’ signature products via virtual reality and augmented reality technologies. Consultants at Emirates World have been cross-trained to provide end-to-end travel solutions, and strive for a one-stop shopping experience that includes airline ticketing, Emirates Holidays and Skywards consultant support, the company said. Emirates World will also feature the airline’s in-store Premium Economy Class seat display. The retail store will host workshops, talks and other interactive sessions with Thailand, Seychelles and Israel tourism boards kicking off destination workshops in December. The retail store experience models will fall into three categories — including the full-fledged Emirates World concept, the Travel Store model, and Travel Kiosks, according to Emirates. “Retail store models will be determined by customer requirements in each market, including strategic positioning, venue footfall, and evolving customer trends,” the company said.

World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) members are set to invest more than $10.5 billion in Saudi Arabia over the next five years, said Julia Simpson, WTTC president and CEO. The global tourism body’s highly anticipated Global Summit kicked off in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Monday with an estimated 3,000 people expected to attend. With its theme — Travel for a Better Future — the event will focus on the value of the sector, not only to the global economy, but also to the planet and communities. “Our event brings together many of the world’s most powerful travel and tourism business leaders to discuss and secure its long-term future, which is critical to economies, jobs, and livelihoods around the world,” Simpson said.

Spending in leisure, amusement and theme parks in the Middle East and Africa is expected to reach $609 million in 2023, according to a report issued by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Abu Dhabi‘s Miral Asset Management recently announced the launch of a new group identity to streamline the delivery of $3.5 billion worth of leisure and cultural projects across the emirate. The Saudi Arabia Entertainment & Amusement market is also expected to reach $1.17 billion by the end of the year 2030, according to research reports. Riyadh will also be hosting the debut edition of the Saudi Theme Parks & Entertainment Confex next year in March. As Gulf nations look to diversify their economy while reducing dependence on oil, they are also looking to develop leisure tourism facilities to attract more visitors.

Qatar Tourism has launched a new global campaign No Football. No Worries — fronted by Italian footballer Andrea Pirlo. In the campaign, Pirlo will show just how much Qatar has to offer — from sandboarding down the desert dunes of the Inland Sea, soaking up the culture in the Museum of Islamic Art to kitesurfing at Fuwairit Kite Beach. The campaign forms part of Qatar Tourism’s new global brand platform — Feel More in Qatar, which focuses on the family friendly activities and experiences on offer. The Feel More in Qatar campaign will launch in December. Qatar Tourism has an ambitious long-term strategy to attract more than 6 million inbound visitors annually by 2030. The destination has said that it would achieve this by boosting the entire tourism value chain, increasing local and international visitor demand, and driving a multiplier effect across the domestic economy.

Kazakhstan Tourism has signed a cooperation agreement with Group following which the Chinese online travel giant will look to develop and promote tourism in Kazakhstan through its platforms — Ctrip,, Skyscanner, Travix and MakeMyTrip. Group will support destination partnerships through a series of promotional activities, and its fast-growing global network of assets to develop Kazahk’s tourism industry and encourage international travellers to visit. Kazakhstan has been proactively promoting its tourism sector, Currently, travelers from 78 countries are exempt from visa requirements to enter the country. Kazakhstan also allows Chinese and Indian residents visa-free entry for up to 14 days.

In its new economy class fare redesign, national carrier Oman Air now offers four branded fare types — Super Saver, Economy Lite, Economy Smart and Economy Prime. The Super Saver, a low-cost option to its economy fare, caters to those traveling light. Passengers traveling on these fares could enjoy savings of up to 20 percent on tickets with allowance for only 7-kilograms carry-on baggage. Guests could additionally purchase add-ons, including extra baggage, preferred seat selection, and airport lounge access. A level up from the Super Saver fare is the Economy Lite, which offers carry-on baggage of up to 7 kilograms and check-in baggage up to 30 kilograms.

Marking the beginning of the third season of sailings in the Red Sea, MSC Splendida arrived in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah on her inaugural visit to the kingdom. Closed to tourism for many years, Saudi Arabia has been working to bring more cruise ships to the country. Having steadily built its presence in the Middle East, Europe’s MSC Cruises is currently the biggest cruise operator in the region. The third season is expected to welcome over 75 calls from international cruise lines at both Yanbu and Jeddah ports, according to Saudi Press Agency. Other cruise lines visiting the country include Viking, Silverseas, and Fred Olsen Cruise Line. MSC Splendida will sail in Saudia Arabia between November 2022 and May 2023, offering cruises from Jeddah to Yanbu in Saudi Arabia, Aqaba in Jordan, and Port Sokhna and Safaga in Egypt. Cruises vary in length between three, four, and seven days.

Emirates Group-owned dnata has announced its partnership with American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) to offer more local expertise in the Middle East region to Amex GBT’s global clients. As per the “preferred travel partner agreement” Dubai-based dnata Travel Management will provide full end-to-end travel and meetings management services to Amex GBT’s customers, the company said. Rashid Al Awadhi, senior vice president of dnata Travel Group, Middle East & India, spoke about the strong growth in corporate travel in the region, fuelled by mega-projects and companies that are seeking to expand.

Omani low-cost-carrier SalamAir has announced the introduction of a direct flight between Muscat and Bangkok from December 18. The thrice-weekly flights will depart Muscat on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, while return flights from Bangkok are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  Bangkok is SalamAir’s second destination in Thailand, after Phuket. Bangkok remains one of the most preferred tourist destinations for Omanis and expats, said Mohamed Ahmed, CEO of SalamAir, adding, “The airline’s network expansion strategy is dedicated to increasingly connect more destinations along new sectors to establish a strong pan-international presence.” The carrier that operates six A320neo and four A321neo, flies to international destinations within the Gulf nations as well as to Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nepal, Czech Republic, Pakistan, India and Egypt.

The Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple year-on-year between January and September, according to the latest statistics from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Barometer. Inbound arrivals to the region witnessed an increase of 225 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of the year to reach 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels. In September, arrivals reportedly surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East, showing an increase of 3 percent over 2019. While worldwide domestic capacity rose to 86 percent of 2019 levels, the Middle East region was at 99 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the UN tourism body noted quoting statistics from International Air Transport Association.

Saudi Arabia-based Elaf Travel and Tourism signed an exclusive agreement with Sabre to drive the agency’s growth through enhanced technology. The agreement provides Elaf access to Sabre’s marketplace of more than 420 airlines, 750,000 hotel properties, and hundreds of tour operators, rail, car and cruise providers, enabling it to sell personalized travel packages from suppliers around the world. Elaf would be using Sabre’s solutions and capabilities to transform its business and advance its offerings to enrich customer experience, said Adel Ezzat, CEO of Elaf Group.

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Tags: american express global business travel, cruise, dnata, dubai, emirates air, middle east, msc cruises, oman, qatar, saudi arabia, Skift Pro Columns, theme parks,, unwto, world cup, wttc

Photo credit: A Boeing 777-368ER flown by Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia Arabian Airlines. Saudi Arabia has plans to massively expand its airport. Md Shaifuzzaman Ayon / Wikimedia Commons

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