Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat-The number of Saudi tourists traveling abroad has decreased following the recent crashes in the Saudi stock market, which resulted in many Saudis losing over 90% of their financial assets.
A significant number of Saudis who intended to travel abroad for their holidays have had to cancel their trips, change their destinations to less expensive countries or even arrange to spend their holidays inside the Kingdom to reduce expenses. Mohamed Al Salem, an English language teacher in Jeddah said, “Three months ago, I had booked tickets to London for my family and myself. We intended to spend two months there during the summer vacation. This would have been the first time for us to visit London, but luck isn’t always on one’s side.”
He added, “All my life savings with which I intended to build a house for my children, were lost within less than a year. A year ago, I had invested half of my savings in shares in Sawa and that is where I lost my money. I tried to make up for these losses, but unfortunately, I lost even more money. Now, I’m waiting to be reimbursed.”
Tourism and travel agencies owners in the kingdom agreed that the drop in the number of Saudi tourists abroad and the fact that many of them had not confirmed their bookings exceeded 50% of Saudi travelers is because of the Saudi stock market crash.
Ahmad Samhan, who works for the Al Jazeera Tourism Agency in Jeddah, said, “People usually book their trip well in advance of the summer holiday to ensure availability on flights considering that international flights, especially to South East Asian countries, are extremely busy at this time of the year.” He added, “This year, there were a number of people who cancelled their trips, did not book in advance, or did not confirm their bookings that make up 50% of all reservations. This is because the losses that the stock market had incurred took place two months ago when travelers usually reserve tickets and begin to organize their trips abroad.”
Regarding changes to the choice of destinations that are less expensive, Samhan said, “This is the solution that many people have resorted to. Some of them chose to travel to nearby Arab countries that are no more expensive than our own country to enjoy a number of tourist spots in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt or Dubai.”
Ahmed Zeidan, who works at Zahed Travel in Jeddah, said, “All those working in the field of tourism have noticed the decrease in bookings and the increase of cancellations after reservations were not confirmed.”
Concerning other reasons that had driven some people to abstain from traveling abroad, Zeidan said, “From a questionnaire that we had conducted, it was clear that earthquakes, tornadoes, warnings of potential natural disasters hitting South East Asian countries are other reasons that stopped people from planning to travel. Earthquakes in Indonesia and Iran have significantly affected tourism in East Asia.”
The crash in the Saudi stock market will force many Saudis to spend their holidays inside the Kingdom. Zeidan asserts, “We expect tourism to shift internally instead of externally this year. Many travel agencies have begun to organize activities inside Saudi Arabia and have made reservations with different hotels in various cities.”
Hamad Al Sawady who heads a campaign to revitalize tourism in Najran emphasizes that this city is home to a number of tourist hotspots, the most prominent of which is Al Okhdood. He said, “Although we are not happy about other peoples’ misfortunes and that the crash in the Saudi stock market has directly affected people who intended to travel abroad, we hope that this difficulty has positive results and pushes internal tourism forwards.”
He added, “All provinces are fully prepared for the summer vacation. As for Najran, I have come to Jeddah to sign a contract with Jeddah’s Fairs Committee to organize a fair similar to that which is held in Mecca for shopping. This is in addition to the theatrical performances, conferences and other various programs.”