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SAUDI ARABIA - Tourism

Fawaz A. Farooqui

Managing Director, Cruise Saudi & Senior Advisor to the Minister of Culture

Bio

As Managing Director of Cruise Saudi, Fawaz Farooqui utilizes his expertise and background in performance management, business intelligence, operational excellence, and innovative city management to guide the company’s preliminary growth phase.
Fawaz serves as a Senior Advisor to the Saudi Minister of Culture, heading several developments and projects related to cultural development and tourism. Fawaz joined the government in 2015, serving as an advisor to the Minister of Economic and Planning. He led multiple initiatives to restructure the recreation and entertainment sectors that culminated in establishing Saudi Arabia’s landmark General Entertainment Authority and the Quality of Life Program. Fawaz was also CEO of the National Transformation Center. He founded the national transformation center and led the rollout of the second iteration of the NTP, which restructured many of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 Programs. Before joining the government, Fawaz led key initiatives at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), where he launched KAEC’s entrepreneurship program while partnering with the global Messengers of Peace (MoP) initiative to kickstart several social responsibility programs, which resulted in KAEC’s listing on the international agenda for the MoP initiative. Previously, Fawaz led several business transformations while working with Saudi Aramco for nine years. Fawaz has an MBA from Stanford University and earned a BSc in Computer Engineering and Computer Science, a BA in Political Science, and an MSc in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California. He has authored several articles on technical engineering, including three technical papers. He serves as a board member on several organizations, including Cruise Saudi and the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

"It is well known that cruise passengers spend an average of USD750 per person in port cities over the course of a typical seven-day cruise, which contributes to the local economy."
TBY talks to Fawaz A. Farooqui, 
Managing Director of Cruise Saudi & Senior Advisor to the Minister of Culture, about bringing tourism to Saudi Arabia and short-term ambitions and goals.
The Kingdom is working toward raising the caliber of the hospitality industry. Within this context, how is Cruise Saudi working to elevate and support its development?

It is well known that cruise passengers spend an average of USD750 per person in port cities over the course of a typical seven-day cruise, which contributes to the local economy. Our target is to receive 1.3 million passengers by 2035, and to create 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in the tourism industry. This will directly increase tourism’s contribution to GDP to 10% and reach Saudi’s target of 100 million visitors by 2030.
Established in 2021 to bring international visitors to the country to experience “the new Kingdom,” Cruise Saudi is knitting together unique experiences and journeys with the help of different government agencies such as the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism, and various other municipalities. We are elevating experiences at local destinations and taking visitors through selected iconic destinations in Saudi. For example, they can visit beautiful and intriguing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi including Jeddah Historic District, AlUla (Hegra) and Al-Hasa in the east, close to Dammam. In Old Jeddah, visitors can learn about the local culture and the fascinating history as a major port before taking a cruise to Yanbu, along the Red Sea. Our efforts are directed toward positioning Saudi Arabia as the best tourist destination in the world. We aim to define the next generation of cruising.

How is Cruise Saudi refreshing the image of the Kingdom and building it up into a premier global cruise destination?

There are three parts to Cruise Saudi’s efforts. The first was opening Saudi Arabia for global cruise lines, namely building up the infrastructure and berths to receive these cruise lines. The second step was regulations, including tourist visas. It was not easy to develop cruise regulations from the ground up and prepare for cruise passengers. The third layer was providing the services that a cruise ship would need, including fueling, supply, and everything else. It is then crucial to focus on the traveller’s experience. We looked at short excursions, which also mean ensuring that tour operators are prepared and that they were selling the right experiences and narratives. We wanted everything to be local and authentic. With the help of the Ministry of Tourism, we have trained more than 1,000 tour operators in the past two years, many of them from smaller regions like Yanbu, Medina, Al-Hasa, and AlUla. Of those, more than 30% are women. All these efforts have been vital to prepare the country to receive global cruise passengers who can then go onshore. The third pillar will be the launch of our owned cruise line and will be the highlight of our operations in 2023.

Can you provide more details on the new cruise line?

The cruise line is called AROYA Cruises, which combines the word ‘Arabian’ with ‘Roya’, meaning a vision or dream in Arabic. It will serve the Arabian market and will provide an authentic Arabian offering. The target markets will be Saudi nationals, expats and regional visitors as well as other Arabian countries. We have divided the Red Sea into different segments, and not every cruise line will stop at every destination. We will have four key segments: budget, mainstream, premium, and luxury. Even within these layers, there will be further segmentation. For example, within the luxury segment, there will be ultra luxury and uber luxury.

What obstacles did Cruise Saudi face during its operations, and what solutions did it employ to overcome them?

The main feedback that we consistently receive from all passengers and business partners is that Saudi nationals all over the country are extremely hospitable; still, there are various challenges. As the country has never received a cruise line and thousands of passengers disembarking before, on the one side we work closely with all respective government and regulatory entities to ensure that all the regulations, related visas and immigration processes are in place to provide the best passenger experience. On the other hand, one of the key challenges is the readiness of the different destinations with the required infrastructure and community engagement to welcome the mass passengers to experience the authenticity, culture, nature and hospitality of the country. In this area our Shorex Team and constantly in the look-out for new tours and destinations to be added, and we work with various tour operators and tour guides to maximize the passengers’ experiences and unique memories.

What are your short-term ambitions and goals?

We have exciting plans for the development of various world class cruise port facilities in line with our aspiration to position Saudi as a premier global tourism destination. As we have seen so far, we expect these destinations to be integrated into the urban landscape and widely supported by the local communities just like we experienced in Jeddah, Yanbu and recently Dammam. Local communities are excited to welcome international visitors and show the distinct Saudi hospitality, and visitors are amazed to experience an undiscovered destination offering culture and natural beauty. We expect many of our cruise guests to come back for another longer visit to Saudi.

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