The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing in its tourism sector to cater to its increasing flow of tourists, most of whom are travelling to the kingdom for religious reasons. The kingdom has already shifted gears for this Ramadan season, with escalated security and engaging activities on offer.
As part of Saudi Seasons 2019, an initiative of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), tourists can now discover the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia across 11 tourism seasons!
Designed around cultural, touristic, and historic attractions in various regions and cities, the programme aims to create enriching experience for tourists. Also inclusive of sports, entertainment, business as well as religious events, Saudi Seasons 2019 has Eastern Region Season, Ramadan Season, Eid Al Fitr Season, Jeddah Season, Ta’if Season, Eid Al Adha Season, The National Day Season, Riyadh Season, Diriyah Season, Al-`Ula Season and Ha’il Season as its 11 seasons.
An experimental project, Saudi Seasons 2019 aims to develop infrastructure and service sector in order to launch its tourism sector. Launched in March, The Eastern Region Season, was the first of its experimental seasons.
In the capital, Riyadh, tourism authority has now escalated efforts to provide the best services to visitors during Ramadan Season, which is also coinciding with the summer break.
Abdulaziz Aal Hassan, director-general of the SCTH for the Riyadh region, said the tourism plan involved inspections of accommodation, agencies, and services.
A growing number of pilgrims have been travelling to Saudi Arabia each year to perform Umrah, Islam’s minor pilgrimage, as per the Saudi Centre for International Communications.
Over the past eight months, more than 6.1 million pilgrims travelled to Mecca to take part in the ritual, up from 5.7 million during the same period in the last Islamic year.
The increase comes as Saudi Arabia looks to expand capacity in Mecca to accommodate more than 30 million visitors per year.
This year, the largest number of pilgrims, of whom more than 50 pc were women, were from Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Turkey, and Yemen.
Separate from the Haj, Umrah is a general Islamic pilgrimage that may be undertaken any time of the year. While not compulsory, it is deemed a way to strengthen faith and ensure a more complete Haj experience.
Umrah rites are especially popular during Ramadan, when able-bodied Muslims fast during daylight as one of the five pillars of Islam.
Ramadan in Riyadh
The ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan sees able adult Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. The holy month abstains them from drinking, eating or engaging in immoral acts or rage while indulging in acts of worship such as prayer, reading the Quran as well as doing charity work.
Muslims believe the Quran was revealed in Ramadan, and during the month they wake up early to eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and they break their fast with a meal referred to as iftar.
Large iftars are hosted in mosques, especially for the poor and needy. Night prayers called tarawih are also held in mosques post iftar.
As part of Saudi Seasons 2019, inspections have begun across these mosques and other places of worship or gatherings to safely host tourists. The SCTH Riyadh branch has also been working to organise events and programmes around the festival. Museums and heritage villages have also been prepared to receive visitors during Ramadan and the subsequent Eid holidays.
While on a Ramadan holiday in Riyadh, tourists can also explore the neighbouring Ad Diriyah region that is home to a number of attractions.
It has the historic At-Turaif district that was once the home of the Saudi royal family and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Restoring the region is also one of the many projects under way to boost tourism in the kingdom.
The city’s sights include Masmak Fort, that was part of Old Riyadh, and Murabba Palace, the palace of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz, which is now known as the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre.
A cultural attraction is the Ashikar Heritage Village, a compound of mud buildings, that has become a major attraction. The site is 200 kilometres from Riyadh and features a museum and other buildings with traditional architecture.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Riyadh has seen travel and tourism receipts grow by an average of 7.9 pc a year since 2006, twice as fast as in Makkah. The council said the sector generated USD 3.4 billion for Riyadh in 2016, although this represented just 2.2 pc of the city’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
With religious tourism a particularly growing tourism segment and people visiting the kingdom for the various pilgrimages, the kingdom is being considered as the strongest tourism magnet in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.