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Umrah tourism gets big boost


Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), yesterday estimated the total value of tourism projects in the Kingdom at SR 290 billion, including railway projects. Addressing a joint responsibility forum organized by Okaz, he said Crown Prince Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, has approved the tourist visa system for Umrah pilgrims.

“It is an integrated system involving the ministries of foreign affairs and Haj,” the SCTA chief said. The move would boost domestic tourism as more than five million pilgrims come for Umrah every year. Prince Sultan also disclosed plans to establish advanced rest houses along the Kingdom’s highways to meet the requirements of travelers, adding that its details would be announced this month. About 86 percent of Saudi travelers use resting places along highways. “Saudi Arabia is a fertile ground for tourism,” Prince Sultan said, adding that tourism requires greater efforts from officials as well as citizens for its success. The SCTA chief said he was not happy with the performance of domestic tourism in the past. “There are lots of challenges and obstacles, which must be overcome.” However, he expected dramatic improvement in the coming years.

“I know that about 95 percent of Saudis have not seen beautiful places in various parts of their country including Jazan, Tabuk, Farasan and Al-Ula,” he pointed out. The main obstacles facing the tourism sector are lack of infrastructure and services, the prince said. The SCTA has signed agreements with 45 government departments to promote tourism. He estimated Saudization of jobs in the tourism sector at 26 percent without any financial support. “There are a lot of job opportunities especially in remote areas.”

He called for the establishment of a tourism company and a tourism fund to implement major tourist projects like the Red Sea tourism development project. Prince Sultan said two important laws — the general tourism law and antiquities and architectural heritage law — would be issued by the end of this year.

Source: Arab News
Friday 1 June 2012