Saudi Arabia and World Bank create $100m fund to develop sustainable tourism

UN World Tourism Organisation opens a new regional office in Riyadh as the kingdom aims to develop its tourism sector

Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the World Bank, pledged $100 million to create a global fund for inclusive tourism, according to the kingdom’s tourism minister Ahmed Al Khateeb.

“This will be the first and the only global fund dedicated solely to sustainable international tourism growth,” Mr Al Khateeb said at the Tourism Recovery Summit 2021 in Riyadh on Wednesday.

“This is a significant step towards a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable future for our sector, an opportunity to create a more responsible approach to tourism that uplifts communities and drives economies while preserving the environment and respecting local cultures,” Mr Al Khateeb said.

The travel and tourism sector was one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic as movement restrictions imposed to curb its spread brought travel to a halt. More than 62 million tourism jobs were lost last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Travel is slowly restarting this year as a global vaccine rollout gains pace and governments begin establishing travel corridors as infections ebb.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is among the many countries that are planning to open to tourists.

It is developing a number of sustainable projects, including Neom, a $500 billion futuristic city comprising a nature reserve, coral reefs and heritage sites, the Red Sea Development Project containing islands off the city's western coast and a mega entertainment and sports project, named Qiddiya, in the capital.

The country also set up the Tourism Development Fund last year with an initial investment of $4bn to drive the growth of the sector in the kingdom.

“Our giga projects will combine nature-adventure and cultural attractions in a way that adheres to the highest environmental standards. More importantly, they will also be attractive places to visit and live in," the minister said.

“In Neom, we are developing the world’s first city with no streets, no cars and no carbon emissions,” he said. “The Red Sea Project will be the largest global destination powered solely by clean energy with no connection to the national grid.”

The country also aims to plant 10 billion trees as part of its green initiative, according to Mr Al Khateeb.

Speaking at the same summit, Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said it has opened a regional office in Riyadh, which “is a sign of hope for many people”.

“Riyadh and the kingdom is one of the countries, there are not many of them, during [the] pandemic which is still investing in the tourism industry," Mr Pololikashvili said.

Last month, Saudi Arabia's Tourism Development Fund said it will jointly finance a 1.3bn Saudi riyals project in Madinah aimed at capitalising the tourism potential of the holy city.

Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast - in pictures