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Rich Saudi families enjoy various types of entertainment in an artificial oasis built on sand dunes, and spend huge sums of money in a difficult phase of the spread of the epidemic that prevents travel abroad, which can contribute to the revival of domestic tourism.
The Corona virus has hindered Saudi plans to boost tourism and entertainment, two new sectors that form the cornerstone of the plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy, but domestic tourism has become an important factor to breathe life into these two sectors.
In light of the inability of the Saudis to visit their favorite cities and resorts in several countries due to the restrictions imposed to contain the Covid-19 epidemic, Riyadh Oasis, an upscale desert haven with its luxurious restaurants and luxurious tents, seeks to attract Saudi personalities and affordable families to spend their vacation in it.
The site, billed as a “five-star winter haven,” is the government’s latest attempt to woo Saudis accustomed to spending billions of dollars abroad.
“Water, palm trees, sand. An oasis has it all,” said a Saudi tour guide as he welcomed guests with their luxury cars.
The oasis opened in mid-January for a three-month season.
“The Oasis provides services to high net worth Saudis and targets those who were unable to visit the United States or Europe on their annual trips,” a Riyadh-based banker told AFP.
For decades, citizens of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were seen as among the top spenders in Europe, largely because of the dearth of entertainment options in their countries.
The annual Saudi foreign tourism market is expected to reach more than $ 43 billion by 2025, according to the Dublin-based Research and Markets Group, knowing that about $ 18.7 billion was spent on tourism abroad in 2019, according to a central bank report. Saudi.
The government, which is fighting the economic downturn caused by the epidemic, is seeking to capture a large slice of that revenue.
Saudi Arabia recently announced an extension of the ban on foreign travel for its citizens from March 31 to May 17.
The decision, which the government said was caused by the delay in the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, fueled speculation that the travel ban was also aimed at supporting the economy by boosting domestic spending.
Official data in recent months showed a significant increase in domestic tourism and hotel reservations, but this may not be long.
A poll conducted by the travel company this month showed that more than 80 percent of Saudis plan to travel abroad within six months of the travel restrictions being lifted.
Despite this, Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of crude oil, is sticking to a long-term strategy to boost domestic tourism.
In addition to the music festivals and sporting events that have begun to be organized in several places in the Kingdom in recent years, hundreds of cinemas are being planned after the decades-long ban on cinema was lifted in 2018.
– “Not targeting everyone” –
The kingdom is also building a “Walt Disney” theme park called Qiddiya, and a luxurious resort in the style of the Maldives along the Red Sea, both of which are worth hundreds of billions of dollars to build.
“These developments should encourage more domestic spending,” said a 2019 report by the global consulting firm McKinsey.
According to the report, more than 50 percent of Saudi spending on entertainment and entertainment is currently “outside the kingdom.”
However, the exorbitant cost of entertainment offers angered some groups in society, especially after the value-added tax tripled last year, which affected families’ incomes.
The daily rental cost for a tent in Al Waha is more than 13,000 riyals (about $ 3,466).
“The cost of these tents equals about a month’s salary,” a Saudi journalist told AFP, requesting anonymity.
“There is a joke I heard that this serves a group of people who do not use toilet paper unless they are made of silk. They are really targeting the richest, that is, the one percent,” he continues.
Adel Al-Rajab, CEO of Seven Experience, the company behind the Oasis project, acknowledges that it “does not target everyone.”
“You can’t expect all people to mean five or six-star hotels,” he says.
In 2019, the head of the General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, faced criticism after he suggested that the financially struggling Saudis pay credit cards to cover the costs of entertainment activities.
© 2021 AFP