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Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia heading for a revolution in the name of advantage, citizen liberation and tourism appeal?

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is changing. Many facts can be quoted that suggest that to be true but will the rise in consumer consciousness direct the depth of change or might the Kingdom underestimate consumer shift? There is small progress together with grand proclamation to either be taken seriously or dismissed as an opaque veneer in the ‘new’ Saudi Arabia.

POINTS TO NOTE;

1) Women are now allowed to drive. They can even do so without the permission of their father, brother or husband. At the same time, there are several female activists still in jail because of the demonstrations and passion they participated in to make this so.

2) There is evident diversity beginning to emerge toward a touristic hub and the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’. Investment of a reported $1.2Trillion in the Amaala development on the Red Sea coast is happening within the nature reserve owned by the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS). It is scheduled to be complete by 2028 and rumoured to have its own infrastructure, rules and laws, not dissimilar to the liberal feel of Dubai, at least on the surface.

3) MBS, the de facto leader of KSA believes the Middle East can be the ‘new Europe’ – he was quoted from the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh last October as saying “I believe the new Europe is the Middle East … Saudi Arabia in five years will be completely different”. That may be opinion rather than fact but at the very least, it suggests a fundamental shift: not only in how Saudi Arabia is perceived but of how it operates, through legislation, political policy and building bridges destroyed by the Machiavellian actions of late.

AMAALA RESORT PLANS

The Amaala resort on the unblemished Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia is being touted as an embryonic symbol of re-positioning the Middle East. The Chief Legal Officer from the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – the fund that is bank rolling the project – said Amaala will create an environment that meets the expectations of the global Ultra High Net Worth Individual (UHNWI).

The forgiving nature, fickleness or at least the perception of a vacillating consumer has been a relied upon behavioural trait for many countries seeking to attract increasing numbers of tourists to their shores. Country issues and challenges were a hump in the road that a good marketing and PR campaign could get you over but is that still the case?

The potential miss in the KSA and Amaala plans, is the rise in consciousness of luxury travellers and a simultaneous appreciation of serious global issues. The world is a smorgasbord of extremes – none less than the prickly ‘elephant in the room’ polarity that is the rise in travel and the simultaneous damage to the planetary ecosystem. IATA forecasts that without government led protectionist measures, by 2037 there will be 8.2 billion air travellers – close to double the 4.3 billion in 2018. This should be a concern for every country and company involved in travel but for KSA in particular, their target consumer are the ones epitomising the awakened, purposed, bona fide transformation seeking people.

Is it possible to attract and market to the 2.5 million UHNWIs sought to patronise the Amaala resort without an insurgence in policy and legislation? What will it take to erase the knowledge, concluded last month by a UN official, that there was ‘credible evidence’ that the Crown Prince and other officials were involved in the murder of the journalist Jamal Kashoggi? It is true in other countries too, that not all the purported destination values reach the roots of society, the environment and/or governance. How much is that likely to effect where the disposable income of the affluent is likely to be spent?

What is it that will catapult Amaala (and KSA) to being an authentic world wellbeing capital and enduring legacy for humanity? Nothing short of a revolution.

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?

The Amaala project is not only a large scale tourism hub but also a national pursuit. What if MBS saw an opportunity to shine in a world where the narrative and actions of peers and governments suggest regression over progress? What if the KSA vision of the ‘new Europe’ isn’t just window dressing but a reflection of radical policy and legislation re-invention? What if KSA make it their mission to be an inclusive beacon that cuts through global division and becomes the poster child for rooted wellness policy and the wellbeing of all citizens regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race and religion?

If the project and the country is set on delivering the lofty declarations it describes, they will present a country and a destination that is transformation incarnate. We wait with baited breath.

By Anni Hood

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