Saudi Arabia, World Tourism Organization enhance ties to bolster tourism

By Salma C, Intern Reporter
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Saudi Arabia and the United Nations (UN) specialized agency, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will jointly establish tourism as a driver of growth, opportunity, and development in the Middle East and beyond.

At a recent meeting in Madrid, Spain, UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili and Saudi Minister for Tourism Mr. Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb agreed to further advance their shared vision and work together to meet the sector’s potential across the region.

Within a year of the official opening of the UNWTO Regional Office for the Middle East in Riyadh, several projects are in progress by the Center, indicating closer cooperation between the UNWTO and the Kingdom.

The UNWTO has launched several initiatives to establish the Regional Office as the leader in tourism for rural development and to provide tourism opportunities to all through various educational initiatives.

Rural Development and Digitalization

The projects managed by the Regional Office include the UNWTO Global Tourism and Rural Development Program, which aims to promote tourism and growth opportunities for rural communities. The program includes some of the Best Tourism Villages in the world through the UNWTO initiative, and now in its second year after the inaugural competition has made great interest from destinations across all global regions.

Apart from its plans to establish the first Tourism and Rural Development Observatory in Riyadh, the Regional Office will focus on knowledge creation for policy and business practices, training and skills development, as well as technical assistance.

Secretary-General Mr. Pololikashvili and Minister Mr. Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb highlighted the commitment to guide education and innovative tourism. From the Regional Office, UNWTO will support the digitization of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in partnership with major technology companies such as Amadeus, MasterCard, Cisco, Telefónica, and others.

The UNWTO Digital Futures Program aims to provide training on connectivity, e-commerce, big data, analytics, online payments, and security to 20,000 SMEs in 22 countries, including 5,000 in the first 12 months. The UNWTO Tourism Tech Adventures Innovation Forum will be held in UAE later by the end of this month.


The UNWTO Knowledge Lab will be set up in Riyadh to create more valuable employment opportunities in tourism through education, while the first Observatory on the Quality of Tourism Education and employment will be set up to monitor the progress of the strategy.

To ensure that the benefits of tourism education are widely utilized, the UNWTO will provide 10 new online courses in Arabic through the Tourism Online Academy, and the UNWTO will collaborate with higher education providers in the field through the new Tourism Faculty Development Program.

Green Investments for Green Transitions

In line with UNWTO’s wider commitment to advancing tourism for climate action, plans are in place to make the regional office for the Middle East a hub for promoting green investments in the tourism sector, both in the region and worldwide, through jointly developed projects, including projects developed in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and other partners such as the Saudi Tourism Development Fund (TDF) – responding to the UNWTO climate action framework, outlined in the Glasgow Declaration, launched at COP26.

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