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The Media Line: Saudi Arabia Unveils $1 Billion Tourism and Hospitality School in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia Unveils $1 Billion Tourism and Hospitality School in Riyadh

Set to open in 2027, the Riyadh School for Tourism and Hospitality is part of Saudi Arabia’s grand vision to diversify its economy and boost the tourism sector

By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb announced Wednesday the official launch of the Riyadh School for Tourism and Hospitality during the 2023 World Tourism Day celebrations in Riyadh, organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

The project will cost over $1 billion and is expected to open in 2027 in its new campus in Qiddiya, an entertainment megaproject in Riyadh whose building started in 2019.

Al Khateeb expressed great enthusiasm and described the school as a “gift from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the world,” as it “will be opened for every person to enjoy excellent training in tourism and hospitality.”

Saudi Arabia is making a substantial investment of more than $800 billion in the sector of tourism and hospitality with the aim of generating 1 million jobs over the next decade. Additionally, they anticipate that international arrivals will double by the year 2032.

Jana Bader is a Saudi tourism and hospitality professional who heads a company that organizes hospitality investment events. Speaking to The Media Line not in the name of her company but in her personal capacity, she said that Riyadh “is focusing on a diversified economy, moving away from oil to other sectors such as real estate, entertainment, sports, and tourism, all of which work together to increase the GDP of the kingdom.”

She said that although hospitality can already be found within the Saudi culture, there is a need to invest in professional training and creating professionals in order to cope with the sector’s expected growth. “Focusing on it from a professional angle means producing talent within this sector to cover tens of hundreds of jobs that will open within the next couple of years,” she added.

In context: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is a government project launched in 2016 to achieve economic, social, and cultural diversification by the year 2030. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is heading the initiative and has stated that as part of the Vision 2030 project, Saudi Arabia will become an international powerhouse and the country will be less oil-dependent by the year. Tourism plays a key role as one of the main fields in which the Saudi government is investing to diversify its economy.

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi author and commentator who is on the advisory board of NEOM, one of the country’s megaprojects, told The Media Line that the kingdom’s idea is to become the biggest tourism echo chamber in the region.

He described the tourism field as “low-hanging fruit; a market previously closed to the world with a huge potential.”

Aljawhara Minwer is a Saudi public relations and marketing expert in the tourism and culture fields who oversees campaigns for numerous tourism and cultural projects in the region. He told The Media Line that the government is attempting for the tourism sector to contribute 10% of the kingdom’s gross domestic product by the year 2030.

As one of the projects to achieve this target, she mentioned the National Tourism Strategy which focuses on strengthening the image of Saudi Arabia as a global destination of tourism. “Saudi Arabia is characterized by geographical diversity, contrary to the widespread stereotype that it is only a desert,” she said.

Minwer noted that the country has diverse environments, including mountainous regions and green spaces accessible year-round. It counts as one of the most important destinations for divers in its red coral sea and has volcanic waters in addition to being a historical and cultural hub with sites such as Mada’in Saleh and many others.

Bader also sees the international image of the country as one of the main challenges to overcome in terms of attracting tourists from around the world but in a different sense.

“Saudi Arabia’s dominant and powerful position in global politics means that opinions of the country and its people are often formed before encountering them,” she said. However, Bader believes that this is a challenge that will be overcome gradually with the country’s increasing ease in helping tourists obtain business and tourism visas.

She notes that with those processes already happening for a while, “The international opinion started to shift due to real face-to-face experiences rather than prejudgment based on misperception.”

Minwer points to an additional challenge, which is the lack of transportation infrastructure. She says that the country now lacks ways to link cities and tourist destinations with one another as Saudi Arabia is very large, and some of its terrain may be difficult to build in infrastructure.

“However, much of it has been facilitated,” said Minwer, adding that despite the difficulties, new roads are being opened, and the government has worked on linking cities, whether through airports, trains, or well-paved main highways.

Lastly, she pointed to a challenge identified at the time of the Vision 2030 project’s launch, which was the lack of a sufficient number of tourist facilities. However, she notes that in the context of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has witnessed several tourism projects and hospitality centers. “The annual growth in the number of hotel rooms reached 16% or more, which demonstrates the extent of the efforts made to grow this sector and provide the best services to tourists.”


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