Ambition and adaptation: a vital year for tourism
G20 Issue

Ambition and adaptation: a vital year for tourism

Tourism was already on the agenda for this year’s G20 summit, but given the impact of COVID-19 on the sector the discussions emphasised and elevated by the Saudi presidency have been timely – and offer some solutions to getting tourism back on its feet

This year has confirmed the value of tourism to the world. As COVID-19 spread and international travel came to a stop, this value was felt not only by the travel and tourism sector, but across economies, governments and societies at large.

Early on, Saudi Arabia recognised the need to reflect the growing importance of the tourism sector, as it is a key pillar in our national efforts to open our society and our economy to the world. The sector is one of the most effective drivers of transformation across government, with a successful tourism strategy cutting across policies on foreign affairs, transport, logistics, labour markets and the environment. One of the key ambitions of our Vision 2030 is to improve the quality of life for every Saudi citizen and expat resident. The opportunities for employment and exploration, which come from a thriving tourism industry, form an important part of this ambition.

In Saudi Arabia, our tourism industry is younger than most. It has only been a year since we launched our non-pilgrimage–related tourist visas, encouraging significant travel from across the globe. After issuing half a million tourist visas in the first six months, lockdown measures to combat COVID-19 meant that we had to close our borders. However, tourism is too vital to shut down entirely. As such, we launched the Kingdom’s largest domestic tourism campaign, “Saudi Summer”, to encourage Saudi citizens to explore destinations at their doorstep. The response was enthusiastic, with locals spending some $2.5 billion nationwide since June, up 33% from the same period last year. Other countries that have made domestic tourism safe and seamless for their citizens have been similarly rewarded and are beginning to plan the safe opening of their borders. We hope to welcome international visitors again from early 2021.

The value of visitors

Of course, many countries and regions know intimately the value of tourism to their own prosperity. Tourism accounted for 10.3% of global gross domestic product in 2019, and up to 90% in some countries, which have suffered acutely from the consequences of the pandemic. More than 100 million jobs are currently at risk of being lost.

Accordingly, it was timely that tourism discussions were emphasised and elevated by this year’s Saudi G20 presidency. The G20 tourism agenda has been formulated in three phases: the immediate crisis response, medium-term recovery policies, and issues relating to the sustainability, inclusiveness and resiliency of tourism in the long term. Our challenge is to learn from developments in each of these, to work collaboratively across sectors and to maintain the positive momentum that we have generated into Italy’s G20 presidency for 2021.

The G20 tourism track has achieved a lot this year. The ministers’ extraordinary meeting in April focused mostly on coordinating the immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis. Its joint statement demonstrated the strong commitment of all G20 members to improving safety and traveller confidence, highlighting the importance of collaboration and coordination on restrictions, and supporting workers and businesses across the sector.

After tackling the immediate response, we have shifted our focus to the medium- and long-term recovery of the sector. G20 tourism ministers agreed on the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development through Tourism, which places inclusive community development at the heart of tourism policies in the fields of education, innovation and technology.

The ministers also agreed on the Safe and Seamless Travel and Improved Traveller Experience report, which incorporated sharing good practices, supporting resilience in the tourism industry, crisis management in hard-hit regions, and focusing on digitalisation, such as digital health checks at airports. We agreed on guidelines to help us achieve these objectives. In addition, ministers engaged the private sector, as public-private partnerships became a cross-cutting theme throughout our discussions, culminating in a private-sector event where industry leaders unveiled their commitments to recover 100 million tourism jobs. Collaboration with the private sector is necessary if we are to build confidence in the safety and sustainability of the industry.

Tourism is a key economic sector and a recognised growth enabler that can certainly help to enhance the G20’s ambition of shaping a better future, combining technological and behavioural change, and fulfilling important policy priorities for our citizens to improve their quality of life and protect the environment for their future. The pandemic has challenged the very foundations of tourism this year, perhaps more than any other sector. Our achievements in collaborating to support tourism businesses and employees, and to recover stronger, show that we are shaping a better future for all.