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Bilal Khan Bilal Khan

Bilal Khan, Product Analytics Manager, Holidayme.com

BILAL KHAN, PRODUCT ANALYTICS MANAGER, HOLIDAYME.COM, SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON SAUDI ARABIA’S TOURISM INDUSTRY, ALSO PROVIDING ANALYSIS OF THE COUNTRY’S MAIN CHALLENGES.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How successful was 2017 been for your organisation?

BILAL KHAN: Along with all the challenges and economic ups and downs, we have had an interesting 2017. The GCC consists likeminded travellers who are always on a lookout for new and fresher options. Apart from seasonal travellers, family travellers and solo travel enthusiasts we have seen the surge for different and innovative holiday options.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: In your opinion, to what extent do you believe visa changes will have on visitor statistics?

BILAL KHAN: The new visa regime announced by the Kingdom on the issuance of non-religious tourist visas, and broader plans to massively expand its tourist facilities and attractions, will positively impact the economy.

This will elevate Saudi Arabia to the tier one market position, increasing the potential for domestic tourism, foreign arrivals, substantial growth opportunities in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, all towards the government’s Vision 2030 development plan.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What is the potential for national heritage leisure tourism for Saudi Arabia?

BILAL KHAN: Saudi Arabia is blessed with natural beauty, opulent history and rich heritage. Recognising these, Saudi Arabia is focussed on developing tourism as part of its overall economic diversification strategy.

While the leisure tourism segment is still in its infancy, Saudi Arabia is home of one of the world’s largest religious tourism industries and a booming MICE tourism sector.

Overall tourist numbers into the Kingdom stands at 11 million travellers each year. The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca alone brings nearly two million foreign visitors to the Kingdom, creating a market for hotels, food and beverage outlets, sightseeing and, more importantly, utilising the wealth of talent and creating employment avenues for Saudi youth.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: In your opinion, why should travellers visit Saudi Arabia?

BILAL KHAN: Travel and tourism is the country’s second largest Saudized sector.

This provides ambitious plans for the tourism revolution to make Saudi Arabia a world-class travel destination.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia has a rich Islamic history and has been a unique travel destination for many years epitomising religious tourism, historic wonders, natural and heritage marvels.

From picturesque cities, serene mountain resorts and multicoloured Red Sea coral reefs, there is no dearth of places to visit in the Kingdom.

Having earmarked tourism as a key driver for economic growth and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, major initiatives have been put in place to stimulate the industry.

The SCTH is reviewing its economic diversification strategies in order to be in line with Vision 2030 goals, to effectively drive and serve this visitor growth with multiple initiatives.

The overall goal is to position Saudi Arabia as the first choice for international and business travellers.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are the main tourism challenges that still need to be dealt with?

BILAL KHAN: Saudi Arabia has an oil-driven economy, as for several years the country has been dependent on oil and related sectors for economic growth. However, focus has shifted to develop other sectors such as tourism to decrease the dependence on oil, particularly after the 2009 global financial crisis saw the oil sector decline at a nine percent rate.

Global economic issues will definitely always impact the tourism industry, as it weighs on consumer confidence with more people having less disposable income to spend on travel. However, with new visa rules and facilities, such as opening cinemas, and less stringent rules pertaining to women, such actions will help create new avenues and encourage travellers to visit more often.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are your main promotional strategies to appeal to a broader traveller segment?

BILAL KHAN: Strategic planning and seamless implementation are the key factors for any entity looking to develop a successful tourism industry.

At Holidayme we recognise that every visitor has special needs which require careful planning and management.

Being pioneers when using the latest technology allows customers to choose from many itineraries across the world and customise them as per their desire