Saudi Tourism Is Moving To Supercharge Its Appeal As A Traveller’s Destination Of The Future

Hafwah” is the Arabic word that Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and board member of the Saudi Tourism Authority, uses to describe the unique blend of hospitality that awaits visitors to the country. On its journey to transform its predominantly oil-based economy and society, the country has embarked on a stunning arc composed of grand ambitions and giga projects, through its well-chronicled investments across the globe including the sports arena. Back in Saudi, the US$500 billion NEOM futuristic city will be entirely powered by renewable energy. On the tourism front, the Red Sea Project—a multi-billion luxury tourism development that will result in a network of hotels and resorts across many islands, including Sindalah Island—where Robb Report US staged its invitation-only Red Sea Week in 2019.

“As the true home of Arabia, we invite travellers to visit Saudi to discover the endless diversity, endless inspiration and endless surprises our country has to offer,” Fahd says in an interview with Robb Report Malaysia. “Our mix of tradition and modernity, coupled with a commitment to sustainability, will make Saudi a must-visit destination for those seeking something new and different.” In his estimate, tourism will be the largest contributor to GDP next to oil by 2030, leading to a thriving industry of increased job opportunities as well.

What are some of the key appealing factors for Malaysia tourists?

Saudi is the perfect destination for Malaysian travellers. I’m proud to say that we welcomed more than 300,000 Malaysian visitors to the authentic home of Arabia last year. Saudi and Malaysia share the same essence of diversity and a strong spiritual connection. As Saudi is home to the two holy mosques and the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, visitors have a chance to discover the origins of Islam and to deepen their spiritual connection by performing Hajj or Umrah, which we’ve made easier than ever through the launch of our Nusuk platform last year. Nusuk is an integrated government platform that enhances the pilgrim experience and removes barriers from the planning and booking journey and we’ve recently launched the site ( in Bahasa Melayu.  Additionally, Malaysia is known for its love of good food. Saudi has rich and diverse traditional cuisines that are unique across the 13 regions of the country. For Malaysian visitors that want to expand their culinary palette, there is ease and comfort in knowing that dishes are prepared halal. 

How accessible are World Heritage Sites such as the Hegra Historical District?

Today, all six of Saudi’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are accessible and open for tourists. Saudi is home to an extraordinary collection of World Heritage Sites that leave our visitors in awe. These sites are a testament to the country’s rich history and a must-visit destination for any history and culture enthusiast. We want everyone to have the opportunity to access Saudi’s hidden treasures and are even using the latest technologies to bring our historical sites to visitors in a new way. In fact, we’ve even launched a version of Hegra in the metaverse, which makes it the first UNESCO World Heritage Site to make an appearance in the virtual world. Metaverse visitors are able to access certain parts of Hegra that are protected in person to ensure that the relics are preserved. 

What are some key experiences for the first-time traveller to Saudi Arabia?

Saudi has iconic landmarks that Malaysian visitors won’t find anywhere else in the world. I would recommend Malaysian travellers start with a visit to Makkah and Madinah, make their way to Jeddah for a stroll through UNESCO site “Al Balad”, and then go for a snorkelling excursion in the Red Sea. Visitors can easily hop over to AlUla and then close their trip to Riyadh with another UNESCO World Heritage Site visit famously known as At-turaif in Diriyah, a city of antiquity, which is imbued with a rich history and culture, adorned with remarkable architecture, and captivating museums. Nonetheless, Diriyah’s appeal extends beyond its past, as it provides luxurious accommodations, exquisite dining options, and exceptional shopping facilities, making it an ideal destination for all types of travellers.

What can we expect this year in terms of events happening in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi is fast becoming the region’s premier hub for sports, leisure and entertainment. We’ve just hosted the world’s fastest F1 street circuit in Jeddah. Later this year, we’ll be hosting a new edition of MDLBeast in Riyadh, and of course Saudi Seasons, the largest lifestyle festivals in the world with Riyadh Season in winter and Jeddah Season in Summer. New this year will be the Ancient Kingdoms Festival and the Azimuth Music Festival in AlUla. The Islamic Arts Biennale is also running now in Jeddah through April. We have hundreds of events planned for 2023, many of which can be found on Visitors can also anticipate the opening of several new hotels including Six Senses, St. Regis and Nujama, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve later this year. 

How do you find calm?

I’m an early bird and a nature enthusiast. I enjoy early morning walks outside. When in Saudi, that’s usually in Wadi Hannifah, a beautiful natural river valley that has a walking path in Riyadh. Likewise, I also really find calm in praying, which is a great way to find peace in the midst of our busy days.

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