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SAUDI ARABIA: Towards Easier Visa Policy

In his appraising words for Saudi Arabia's plans, Scowsill also noted, "In order to ensure that the increase in tourism investment will lead to the expected growth, [WTTC] encourages the Saudi Arabia's government to adopt visa policies that welcome all travellers for business and leisure purposes."

Visa procedures indeed seem to represent a challenge, which the Kingdom's travel and tourism industry is currently facing, specifically visa delays, restrictions and increased visa fees, as Sivanander confirmed.

In regards to visa regulations, the Kingdom's tourism strategy aims to attend to the pilgrims and in the future enable them to convert their visa into a tourist type to encourage their further travels around the country.

Improved and automated visa procedures are also on the list of the steps necessary to reach higher tourism numbers in times to come.

Imran observed that because the Saudi government is strongly encouraging tourism in major cities, the visa process has already started loosening-up.

A WAY AHEAD

With the desired expansion of tourism strongly instilled in the country' s vision of going forward, the industry is to expect stronger competition as more players will appear on the hospitality market.

However, Sivanander believes that because travellers always look for the next new hotel, Aloft brand' s first addresses, which opened in 2016 in Riyadh and Dhahran, received a successful response from the local market, despite the recession.

The brand plans to further embrace the challenges, expected to enter on the market this year, by offering tailored services for domestic and international business travellers.

Service innovation to meet international standards and adequately respond to the market needs for quality services and affordability is a strategy for Elaf Group, aiming at catering for all types of visitors coming from around the world, as Mahfouz revealed.

The cooperation of the private and public sector is crucial on the way towards a more diversified and prosperous economy, as it was highlighted during WTTC Global Summit in April 2016. In the hospitality sector, following the policies of the Vision 2030, and implementing them on the ground is expected to be a way towards high growth rates' achievements, as reflected by Al Amin, who stressed the importance of adhering to the strategic plan.

Vision 2030 pictures Saudi Arabia as a country built on three main pillars, the heart of the Arab world, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting the three continents.

The latter, being the country's convenient accessibility, is a crucial asset for a diverse tourism growth.

This significant emphasis put on tourism in diversifying the economy unveils new horizons in the industry's future. Under the Vision 2030's wings, with the implementation of strategic reforms and cooperation, the travel and tourism sector of Saudi Arabia has a potential to enter an era of glory.