(MENAFN - Arab News) The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) organized a high profile forum on Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment at the Riyadh International Exhibition Center as part of its initiative in promoting domestic tourism in the Kingdom.
According to the organizer this year's forum on "Tourism for Everybody: Partnership towards a sustainable development" aims to shed light on investment opportunities in the field of tourism development. Signings of business partnerships between local and international companies to support the tourism infrastructure are expected on the sidelines of the event.
Elite local and international keynote speakers and experts are scheduled discuss various tourism models and successful tourism experiences, as well as investment and tourism media cases, in 13 workshops.
The four-day event showcased various tourism agencies, hotels and transportations services displaying their products and services. The event was officially opened by Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam yesterday and was attended by officials and media representatives.
One of the highlights of the event was the introduction of a "virtual tours" project launched by SCTA to promote, market, educate the public on the tourism sites and tourism services (hotels or restaurants), that demonstrate the competitive strengths of the tourism sector in the Kingdom through e-tourism.
Prince Sultan bin Salman, SCTA president, emphasized that Saudi market is huge and enjoys exceptional privileges. He said : "We did not make use of it and could not invest in it by providing adequate tourism experience."
He pointed out the government role in supporting the tourism sector and noted that no economic sector would ever improve without government encouragement and support.
Prince Sultan made his statement in the morning session of the forum that discussed the transportation and its role in developing tourism in Saudi Arabia. He said statistics released by MAS at the SCTA show that tourism occupies second place in the government campaign for Saudization, as 26 percent of the employees in the tourism sector are Saudis.
Dr. Musaed Al-Musained, Professor of Planning and Civil Engineering at King Saud University, noted that the tourism sector could not be sustainable without transportation, which depends on improving the transportation services locally and globally through forward and backward linkages.
He said that the increase in local tourism services had played a role in encouraging investments in transportation services and at the same time minimized the expenditure for the operation, especially air transportation. Al-Musained reaffirmed that SCTA statistic shows that number of tourists has increased from 50 million in 2005 to 60 million in 2020 (does he mean 2012?) .
He added that strategic projects in the transportation sector in Saudi Arabia, which are hoped to contribute greatly and actively in tourism development, include the King Abdullah Railway project, the project that will re-open the North to South railway and the implementation of major road East to West across the Kingdom. Supplementing this there would be new airports in addition to expansions of current ones.
He recommended the adoption of integrated policies in the long term on various government levels to support transportation and tourism sector by improving the system and open more competition. He suggested to the Ministry of Transportation improve public transportation services inside and outside the cities as well as its other supporting services
In his statement on accommodation, Prince Sultan said that the hotel industry played a significant role in the economic development in their communities in many countries. He said its aim was to ensure that there was no shortcoming or poor quality of services expected by customers from the hotel classification and that consumer rights would be protected.
The commission, by classification of tourist accommodation facilities, monitors the quality its services. Thus, it weeds out services that are not appropriate or up to the mark, thus ensuring the development of the hotel industry and tourism in general. It set the benchmarks from a firm belief in the importance of providing quality tourist accommodation services, that sector being one of the most important requirements of the tourist as a consumer.
According to the degree classification, the first phase development of this system was done at the national level and was actually re-evaluation of all hotel facilities in Saudi Arabia, except Makkah and Madinah. There the classification will be completed for all facilities before the end of this year.
The accommodation sector was one of the main elements of the tourism industry, thus it is of utmost importance that the development of this sector met the highest standards of service in order to provide the requirements of the residents and satisfaction of tourists.
The highlights of the profile of this program are the newly established classification criteria for various tourist accommodation facilities to ensure upgrading of basic services especially with regard to security, safety and enhancing the realistic delivery of services as per classification.
This guide covers the classification criteria for hotels in the Kingdom.
With regard to the virtual tours project, organizer said that the project aimed to develop a mechanism to increase the awareness about tourism in Saudi Arabia. The project will explore a new way to increase the awareness of heritage tourism by implementing the latest and most appropriate technological and informative methods, taking advantage of experiences of developed countries.
The information technology is seeking to build virtual worlds through virtual reality (VR), either in order to simulate the real world or establish of virtual worlds that do not exist in reality and are free of its restrictions and laws.
He said that the project offered the tourism sector many useful applications that deserved greater attention from tourism researchers and professionals. There were six areas of tourism in which VR might prove particularly valuable: planning and management, marketing, entertainment, an intelligent and effective way to promote real states, tourist locations, hotels or restaurants, visually demonstrating the strengths over competition.
Other events will take place on the sidelines of the forum, aiming at bringing to light the many communities within the Kingdom, under the title "Saudi Arabia: The crossroad between civilizations." The forum will exhibit models of historical places and samples of handcrafts and folklore dances.
The activities will include trips to Riyadh city, to the desert and Washm district and customized package trips for visitors.
The forum will include a career day, which will showcase immediate hiring opportunities at tourism institutes. For the second consecutive year, the forum will on May 4 announce the winners of the tourism excellence award under the patronage of the chairman of the SCTA.
The forum will also launch the added buyers program, which includes inviting a selected number of travel agencies working in GCC countries to visit the Kingdom, hold meetings with exhibitors and signing of the initiatives of the SCTA and private sectors.