Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s blossoming tourism industry is being offered the chance to grow even faster through a UN challenge that helps nurture the best businesses.

Natalia Bayona of the UN World Tourism Organization has said she wants Saudi entrepreneurs to enter her agency’s Awake Tourism Challenge, whose previous winners have gained international experience and expert advice, and raised $350 million of investment over the four years it has run.

Bayona, the agency’s director of innovation, education and investments, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of how the country is committed to creating tourism as a public policy and as an economic sector.” 

She added that goals in the country’s Vision 2030 for “youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and tourism” are central to the UNWTO’s mission.

“We’d like to give visibility and promote Saudi Arabia as a country making a strong effort in the tourism sector,” she said.

The challenge is a perfect opportunity to identify Saudi-based entrepreneurs trying to solve challenges they face in the sector, Bayona added.

Entrants are judged in one or more categories, including local community involvement, environmental work, good use of technology, employee development and the empowerment of women in business.

Bayona said the UNWTO is pushing for enterprises to employ locally to help develop rural economies.

“Eighty percent of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas. Tourism can be part of the way rural areas can be developed,” she said.

Bayona added that women’s empowerment is important “because they have the lowest salaries, the lowest-status jobs. Nonetheless, tourism is the sector that hires the most women worldwide.”

She said the basing of her agency’s regional office in Saudi Arabia shows how seriously it takes the country’s efforts to expand tourism.

The UNWTO’s partners include tourism bodies from more than 160 countries, 100 universities, more than 400 investors and around 500 corporations.

The Awake Tourism Challenge has helped winners raise more than $350 million and helped create more than 100 pilot projects. The deadline to enter this year’s initiative is Oct. 15.

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