RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s thriving tourism industry is being given the chance to grow even faster thanks to a UN challenge that helps develop top businesses.
Natalia Bayona of the United Nations World Tourism Organization said she wanted Saudi entrepreneurs to take part in her agency’s Awake Tourism Challenge, whose previous winners have gained international experience and expert advice, and have raised $350 million in investments over the four years of existence.
Bayona, the agency’s director of innovation, education and investment, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of the country’s commitment to tourism. a public policy and an economic sector”.
She added that the country’s Vision 2030 goals for “youth empowerment, women empowerment, sustainability and tourism” are central to the mission of UNWTO.
“We would like to give visibility and promote Saudi Arabia as a country making a big push in the tourism sector,” she said.
The challenge is a perfect opportunity to identify Saudi entrepreneurs trying to solve the challenges they face in the sector, Bayona added.
Entrants are judged in one or more categories, including local community involvement, environmental work, good use of technology, employee development, and women’s empowerment in business.
Bayona said the UNWTO is pushing for businesses to employ locally to help develop rural economies.
“80% of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas. Tourism can be part of how rural areas can be developed,” she said.
Bayona added that empowering women is important “because they have the lowest wages, the lowest paying jobs. Nevertheless, tourism is the sector that employs the most women in the world.
She said the location of her agency’s regional office in Saudi Arabia shows how serious the country’s efforts to develop tourism are.
UNWTO partners include tourism organizations from over 160 countries, 100 universities, over 400 investors and around 500 companies.
The Awake Tourism Challenge has helped winners raise over $350 million and create over 100 pilot projects. The deadline to participate in this year’s initiative is October 15.