In the lead up to the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) Saudi Arabia, we asked a number of industry partners how they see the future of hospitality in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As global travel and tourism shows strong promise of recovery in a post-pandemic world, now seems a good time to look ahead and consider what the future holds for the industry here in Saudi Arabia – both for the guests enjoying it, and those of us helping to build it.

And the future looks bright.

But to fully understand the opportunity for the country, we must first take a step back and look at the changing face of tourism globally.

Shifting Consumer Preferences

While Covid-19 was a body blow for the tourism industry worldwide, the restrictions placed on travel – as well as the locking down of homes and cities - has fundamentally reshaped consumer attitudes and opinions towards travel. People are hungry to explore, but with new priorities and considerations in mind.

One – and potentially the most pressing – of those new priorities is around sustainability. With the rise of the eco-conscious traveller, consumers are more conscientious when it comes travel, whether booking more environmentally sustainable holiday options, or giving thought to their impact on the local communities they visit. And this can have real impact on business performance, with a recent study carried out by travel firm Expedia revealing that 70% of consumers have avoided a travel destination due to scepticism in their sustainability practices.

Linked closely to this is the rise of wellness tourism – an industry expected to be worth well over a trillion dollars by 2025. As we emerge from the pandemic, many people are focusing more on self-care and improving their physical and mental wellbeing. Holidays and travel are a natural way of doing this, with an increasing number of tourist destinations placing an emphasis on wellness as an offering.

Finally, it appears that being restricted when it comes to travel has driven a rise in exploration – with a desire to seek out newer, more exotic, and less-travelled destinations. The Expedia study mentioned previously indicates that even since restrictions lifted, over 40% of consumers have opted to travel to “lesser-known areas or destinations” – indicating a market with a huge growth potential.

The KSA Tourism Opportunity

With these trends in mind, it is fair to say that Saudi Arabia is primed for a bright future when it comes to global travel. Tourism, broadly speaking, is a brand new, exciting industry for the Kingdom – with potential for huge economic, social and environmental benefits as part of wider plans to diversify its economy in line with the ambitious Vision 2030 plans.

It is a hidden gem for global tourists, and a hugely under-explored region. With significant recent investments and brand-new luxury developments, and within 8 hours flying time for 80% of the global population, the industry in the region has an opportunity to tap into consumer preferences and cater to the needs of today’s modern traveller.

Ambitious luxury destinations are being built with sustainability at their very core – not only seeking to protect local environments and communities, but to actively enhance and regenerate vast areas for the benefit of future generations. The Red Sea Project and AMAALA are a perfect example of this. As we develop these two prestigious projects, we view everything through an environmental lens with two key commitments at the core of our ambition: to power the destinations solely with renewable clean energy, and to deliver a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040. This regenerative approach to tourism and enriching places aligns closely with the Vision 2030 aims for the future of Saudi Arabia by putting sustainability at the heart of everything - from policy development and investment, to planning and infrastructure.

And these efforts are predominantly undertaken with the natural landscape in mind. Saudi Arabia offers visitors the unique opportunity to explore a distinctively diverse region of the world. From sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, and one of the few thriving coral reefs in the world, nowhere else is home to such a diverse mix of natural beauty. Whether travellers are outdoor lovers, thrill seekers, keen divers, cultural explorers or wellness seekers, they can guarantee that their passions will be catered for in Saudi Arabia.

Just the Beginning

As the Kingdom continues to open up its borders to international travellers and collaborate with global businesses – from world-class hotel chains, to architects and property developers – we expect the Saudi hospitality industry to go from strength to strength.

This in part will be driven by the country’s youth population, who will increasingly have access to careers in a new and flourishing industry – giving them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and develop a career. The youth workforce of Saudi Arabia is smart, ambitious and eager, and upskilling and developing these future leaders of tomorrow will play an essential role in the success of the tourism and hospitality industries here.

I strongly believe that the Kingdom’s stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and fabled hospitality make it a rich and rewarding destination. And with best-in-class luxury destinations, and a core commitment to enhancing and protecting the environment, Saudi Arabia has all the foundations in place to be at the top of any travel lists. In my role as CEO of The Red Sea Development Company, I’m fully committed to helping spearhead the efforts to place it firmly on the map when it comes to international tourism, and look forward to welcoming the world to Saudi Arabia when we open our first hotels early next year.