Developing desert tourism in the Kingdom

The World Tourism Organization says deserts have a huge potential and appeal when it comes to environmental tourism

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The World Tourism Organization recently announced that deserts have a huge potential and appeal when it comes to environmental tourism. For a country like Saudi Arabia, where a huge segment of its geographical area is covered by desert, there is great potential to develop desert tourism, Al-Riyadh daily reported.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) has played an important role in increasing all types of tourism in the Kingdom but there are many areas for potential improvement.

Transforming Saudi deserts from empty wastelands to money generators has the added bonus of creating seasonal jobs for Saudi youth.

Desert tourism will attract people with different tastes such as those with a love for adventure and discovery, to people who like discovering new and exotic animal and plant life and those who have a passion for sand surfing, dune riding and camping.

The head of the SCTA’s Hail branch, Mubarak Al-Salamah, emphasized the importance of increasing government efforts to protect the environment and boost public parks.

Al-Salamah also encouraged the private sector to invest in wild life parks and support cultural festivals such as the Hail Desert Life Festival.

“There is a lot of potential for investment. There needs to be support for the restoration of historical landmarks and handicrafts that are region-specific, building and expanding of current walking trails and tour operators that plan and organize tourism trips,” he said.

“All parties participating should take into consideration the protection and preservation of the delicate desert environment to ensure it continues to exist for years to come,” he added.

Al-Salamah said Saudi deserts are full of historical landmarks, which reveal a lot about the colonies and peoples that occupied these lands in the past, and suggested that the private and state sectors work together to show the true face of these landmarks by enacting measures that will educate and attract local and international tourists.

He also said different desert sports such as rallies, horse and camel races, sand surfing and desert activities like trekking and hiking are some of the activities that should be included in tourism packages.

The head of SCTA in Al-Ahsa, Ali Bin Tahir Al-Haji, said the commission has worked tirelessly to improve tourist attractions and conducted research and development studies to test an attraction’s marketability.

Ali Al-Eesa, a desert enthusiast, said desert tourism was appealing not only to those living in the Arabian Peninsula but also to tourists from Western countries that find the desert captivating, especially in winter and spring seasons when the climate is significantly warmer compared to their own countries.

“Westerners also find the nomads very intriguing. I have complete confidence in the success of this type of tourism if the basics are provided such as functional restrooms and campsites.

“They should restrict desert tourism to rallies and festivals and there needs to be a continued push to increase the type of activities offered to tourists such as dune riding and camping. Many Gulf countries have already implemented and succeeded in organizing family desert trips,” he said.

Jaffar Mohammad Sultan, a desert safari organizer in Al-Ahsa, said desert tourism appeals to nature lovers who enjoy the peace and tranquility of the desert, sports enthusiasts and people keen to explore the desert.

“The desert’s most attractive feature is that it has two equally beautiful personalities – one in the morning and the other at night, which eliminates any feeling of boredom or redundancy that tourists might feel elsewhere. These features can be utilized in attracting tourists of different styles and tastes. Al-Ahsa, for example, has Asfar Lake, which is a one of a kind lake in the eastern region of the Kingdom. Al-Ahsa also has fascinating salt marshes and water wells that add beauty, uniqueness and allurement to the area,” he said.

Sultan said he expects Saudi Arabia to make huge strides when it comes to desert tourism and encouraged tourists to respect the country’s natural resources by being careful not to disturb plant and animal life, keeping areas clean by discarding waste in their designated areas and conserving the beauty of the desert.

This article was published in the Saudi Gazette on May 30, 2014.

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