Weighing the Cost of Increasing Tourism in Saudi Arabia

Credit: Abdulmohsen Alakhmadi.

The impact of tourism development on the archaeological site of Al Hijr, declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia in 2008, has been significant since the launch of the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 strategy in 2016, which positioned cultural heritage sites as important catalysts in the country’s long history. – an urgent transition to a post-oil economy.

Al-Hijr, dating back to the first century BC, is considered the sister site of Petra in Jordan, as both were developed by the Nabataean nomadic Arab tribe. However, while Petra has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East, Al-Hijr has remained on the fringes, largely due to Saudi Arabia’s strict rules on international arrivals, which have only recently expanded beyond religious or business travelers.

Al-Hijr is currently the focus of new international tourism activity and while the UNESCO listing has helped spur local community support for tourism through new economic opportunities, the proposed scale of development has raised numerous local concerns, including fears of “cultural erosion” and unstable growth.

Lead author of the research project Abdulmohsen Alahmadi, a master’s student in the College of Humanities, Humanities and Social Sciences at Flinders University, believes that by identifying local stakeholder perspectives on the nascent tourism development in Al Hijr, the study can provide valuable guidance on how to alleviate emerging fears among local residents. communities.

“It has often been argued that the speed of tourism development could lead to ‘cultural erosion’ or irreversible changes in the customs and traditions of communities that until 2019 were subject to limited exposure to foreign tourists,” says Mr Alakhmadi.

“We recommend implementing two-way communication platforms that allow interested community members, local leaders and private tourism business stakeholders to exchange views and concerns.”

Saudi tourism business owners and senior managers interviewed for this study between January and February 2020 said they would like to contribute more to tourism development in Al Hijr and express concerns about the nature and trajectory of tourism development.

Their responses reflect an important moment in the development of the Saudi Arabian tourism environment as they were recorded just a few months after the introduction of new international tourist visas in Saudi Arabia, but just a few weeks before international travel bans due to COVID-19 were put in place. .

Flinders University Tourism Lecturer Dr. Gareth Butler, co-author of the paper, says the study could be used as a valuable guide for Saudi tour operators…

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