(MENAFN - Arab News) Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam claimed on Monday night domestic tourism was boosting economic growth in various sectors in the Kingdom by providing job opportunities for citizens as well as linking people to their heritage and history.
He reaffirmed the keenness of the Kingdom's leadership under Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Crown Prince Naif to launch new initiatives. "I am so pleased to be here tonight at the launch of the fifth session of the Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment at a time when the SCTA is witnessing phenomenal growth in the sector and I wish this forum all success," Prince Sattam said.
The Riyadh governor's statement marked the official opening of the four-day forum-cum-exhibition coinciding with the 2012 Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment event being organized by Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) at the Riyadh International Exhibition Center.
The event, part of SCTA's initiative in promoting domestic tourism in the Kingdom, was attended by various princes, Saudi officials and a number of tourism companies. Minister of Commerce and Industry Tawfiq Al-Rabiah was also present.
The event seeks, among others, to showcase the rich tourist spots in the Kingdom and investment avenues in this sector that are expected to employ thousands of young Saudis. As well as seeking to encourage locals to spend money domestically rather than abroad, there are also more than 8 million expatriates living in the Kingdom who are being targeted by local tourist sites.
SCTA President Prince Sultan bin Salman underscored the achievements and developments in the tourism sector.
Prince Sultan pointed out his commission wanted to implement a major shift toward local tourism and wide acceptance of national tourism programs, stressing the significance of meeting the desired development of services and products.
He pointed out the development of this sector in the Kingdom requires investment and a system of infrastructure services that cannot be implemented by only the government. He said the private sector would contribute later in the consultancy of projects.
In his speech, Prince Sultan expressed his gratitude to the Riyadh governor for his presence at the event.
"I am pleased on behalf of the employees and directors of the commission to be able to sponsor this annual forum, which is the most important event for national tourism," he said.
Prince Sultan reminded the audience that the late Crown Prince Sultan established the commission.
He said the Saudi citizen as a tourist has become conscious of the quality of services and prices of tourism products and stressed that citizens cannot be taken for granted.
He said the Kingdom has huge potential, enormous resources and infrastructure, heritage sites, and geographical and cultural diversity. Despite these immense resources, Prince Sultan said the only way to attract local tourists was through a comprehensive project handled by the government to develop services and programs and tourist facilities.
He added: "Through the studies and statistics documented by the commission in partnership with the relevant authorities, national tourism is one of the most important economic sectors producing employment opportunities for citizens."
He said the total number of local workers in the tourism sector was about 950,000, according for the second highest Saudization percentage in terms of national economic sectors.
He also emphasized the potential of this promising economic sector to produce new job opportunities for citizens of all education backgrounds and different geographical locations. He estimated the industry could create 1.1 million jobs at least by 2015 based on an updated strategic plan.
Prince Sultan also underlined the important role and expectations for national tourism, coinciding with an aim to reconnect citizens, especially young people, with local culture and heritage.
He stated that his authority in the past had launched a system of initiatives and projects to strengthen culture and heritage in the country.
He said: "We believe in the importance of raising awareness about historical sites and antiquities."
The SCTA also wanted to help young people relive the glorious history of their country and enable them to visit the sites that witnessed key historic events, he added.
"With the increasing challenges around us and the growth of social communication, mobility and travel of citizens to countries, it is important to strengthen the presence of citizens, especially young people, in real locations of our beautiful country, so that young people do not live their lives through social networking sites only."
Prince Sultan stressed that the SCTA has continued to review and update a comprehensive overall strategy for the development of national tourism and also approved an operational plan for the next three years.
This plan aims to accelerate the completion of projects and tracks the development of tourist destinations, sites and tourist routes scattered across the country, sites of architectural heritage and monuments, new museums, training programs for Saudi nationals, and tourism products and funding programs.
The SCTA chief said the country has great tourism potential that will benefit both citizens and the economy.
Prince Sultan observed: "We have seen large numbers of citizens leaving for destinations outside our country and spend a lot of money there."
Al-Rabiah said the tourism industry has become a part of everyday life.
He cited the reports of the World Tourism Organization, which said there were a growing number of tourists in the world year after year, whether they were involved in leisure, environmental, marine and desert, therapeutic, sports, conference or shopping tourism.
He said: "This diversity in tourism services is the result of the development of the tourism industry, which has crept to the forefront of economic sectors in the world. Tourism has overcome all its crises and experience has shown the industry does not dry up and disappear, but grows year after year."