Saudi Arabia’s transformation a ‘renaissance,’ Arab News assistant editor-in-chief tells Rome panel

RIYADH: Sustainability and tourism, the rapid growth of the sector in Saudi Arabia, and its importance in fostering cross-cultural dialogue around the world, were the subjects of a roundtable discussion on the last day of an international industry gathering in Riyadh.

Secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, spoke at the private session held to mark World Tourism Day.

This year’s event was attended by more than 50 ministers from around 70 countries. “This is happening for the first time for us, and we are very happy,” Pololikashvili said.

Several initiatives, most of which concerned Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning role in the global tourism sector, were announced over the course of the conference.

High on the meeting’s agenda was the need to expand knowledge surrounding the industry’s sustainability, and Pololikashvili revealed that UNWTO officials were working closely with Riyadh to create a center to address the issue in the Kingdom.

“The center will be like a brain where all projects and all guidelines are generated and from where we can provide and support member states from the Kingdom.

“From the center we will foster educational programs and projects catered to better understanding of sustainability. From here we will support countries in how to foster sustainable development of tourism in their countries,” he added.

The UN agency’s official office for the Middle East has been based in Riyadh since 2021.

Pololikashvili said: “We want to create a very clear program for sustainable development.”

He noted that the project was due to be launched in September next year with a bachelor’s program and participants spending time studying in the Spanish capital Madrid, and the Swiss city of Lucerne.

“The program will provide knowledge of sustainability to the young generation who will then have a clear methodology in how to create steps toward sustainable development,” he added.

Pololikashvili highlighted the progress being made in the Kingdom in developing tourism.

During the roundtable, he said: “We need to work together to make Saudi Arabia even more accessible. The investments in infrastructure and the rules, they’re changing every day. It creates an opportunity to attract more and more events.

“Until a few years ago, the country was totally closed for international travel. Now you see people coming from Argentina, Chile, Japan, and from all over the world.

“Almost 20 African ministers are here. This has never happened, and nobody could have imagined it happening five years ago. The steps are in place. This is a long vision. It’s not only Vision 2030. Many more things will happen here.”

He pointed out that cross-cultural dialogue and cultural diplomacy were key aspects for tourism which helped nations develop and grow economically on the world stage.

“Tourism is the best way for people to get to know one another. For the next five or 10 years we will be working toward tourism as a means for connecting people and bringing the world together.

“It brings all of us together and this is part of our new branding strategy, and it is a reality. Tourism is not only words and nice pictures,” Pololikashvili added.

He said tourism used to involve little more than traveling to a hotel and then returning. “Now it connects many more industries and people, and it is the way to promote intercultural relationships.”

And he noted that it was such relationships that spurred constructive dialogue and helped promote world peace.

“The more we travel, the more we are educated, and the more we know about the culture and people of new destinations, and this is what the government is doing here in Saudi Arabia,” Pololikashvili added.

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