(MENAFN - Arab News) With the tourism industry gearing up to create a niche for itself especially with the convictions of certain officials of some sectors to make it a part of overall development of Saudi Arabia, the efforts for the development of domestic tourism will not achieve the desired result as long as serious problems are not properly addressed.
As the tourism industry is showing signs of strengths, it is also confronting real obstacles in face of the negative approach of the some in the industry.
We find some people who treat citizens indifferently, which is reflected in the poor quality of furnished apartments, suites, tourist facilities, recreational areas, airports, and other means of transport being provided to them as tourists.
Citizens complain about improper treatment being meted out to them, being taken advantage of by either being conned or made to pay charges that multiply at each stage of their holiday and to add insult to injury, they have to take it all lying down. And in the absence of a monitoring authority, these hapless tourists and their families have to suffer poor treatment and injustice!
And at the end of their trip, these domestic tourists find that the cost of their vacation within the Kingdom was much more than what a trip abroad would have cost them. They would have also felt the stark difference in quality of service! These drawbacks have led domestic tourism not achieve the desired degree of acceptance. Also the malcontentment fuels resentment and discontent, which leads to an increase in the number of Saudi tourists departing to other countries, and the estimated four million tourists spending 50 billion annually!
When we assess the potential of domestic tourism, we recognize that despite the breadth and diversity of natural terrains and climate, and what we have in terms of archaeological and natural treasures as tourist attractions, these places have been slow to grow, and do not live up to the standards of international touristic destinations, not even compared to other Arab countries and the Gulf.
In spite of all the indicators that suggest the positive side in recent times, the weight of the negative factors in local tourism overshadow the positives.
Indicators of tourist traffic during the last "mid-year vacation" for students about two months ago, suggest, as pointed out by travel and tourism expert Talal Al-Muhaidib in a report published in Al-Riyadh newspaper (28/01/2012) that the spending of Saudi tourists was estimated at SR1.2 billion during the school leave that lasted 10 days - noting that the share of domestic tourism was 10 percent, and a majority of these visitors visited Makkah and Madinah!
Therefore, the share of domestic tourism was in a sense considered a very small slice of the cake, which does not exceed 4 percent. Therefore, our domestic tourism is there only in name.
However, after having said all that, what gives rise to optimism, despite a host of negative factors in our domestic tourism, is the maturity and awareness and the connection of those responsible for this sector. In the forefront is the prince of tourism, Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, and perhaps this maturity is demonstrated by his transparency and clarity in response to a question raised in this context about his stance on the reluctance of some Saudi tourists to visit domestic destinations. With his usual sincerity Prince Sultan clarified the painful subject of Saudi tourism and pointed out the negativities that can and should be eliminated or replaced, He said: "A citizen cannot remain within the Kingdom, when he tells you every day that prices are high, it is not appealing to him, as it stands now, he says to you that there are no services, there are no tourist programs, I do not find comfort as a family unit, tourist sites are closed, heritage villages are still not built as we want. Though air transport is available, guesthouses and roads are not up to mark. Therefore, it is not right to say to the citizen you must be a national and spend vacation in your home country?! On the contrary we have to tell the commission employees and the state that we have to be the frontrunners in displaying our citizenship. In fact we urge the proper organization of national tourism to provide outstanding services, and to take advantage of the huge components that are not owned by any other state."
The prince of tourism ended his talk, and on behalf of our readers I say that admitting the truth is a virtue, and an awareness of limitations is a positive, but when will our lagging national tourism catch up and who is hindering its progress?