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March 5, 2014

Middle East: STTIM to focus on skill development

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The 2014 Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market (STTIM) continues to expand in its seventh year. It is already confirmed that this year’s event, which is being held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Centre (RICEC) between March 30 and April 3, will have a 40 percent larger display area than 2013, helping to underline its status as one of the most important in the region’s travel and tourism sector. 

This year’s event focuses on the development of the country’s local travel and tourism service suppliers, with a strong presence from Saudi Arabia’s provincial tourism councils, municipalities and various public departments linked with tourism infrastructure. “The main focus of STTIM 2014 will be the roll-out of a scientific programme concentrating on the development of the local tourism industry and the way those local companies can benefit from the broader events and trends in the kingdom’s travel and tourism sector,” said Tariq Al Essa, Business Tourism Project Manager at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA). 
The programme’s aim is the up-skilling of local organisations and manpower to offer best services in the sector. The goal is to ensure as many companies as possible benefit from the opportunities arising from the increased interest in Saudi Arabia as a business and leisure destination for regional and international visitors. The forum is expected to highlight local initiatives that contribute to the development of the Saudi national tourism sector, including the recently launched SCTA programme for skills development to deal with tourists. 
Industry professionals from all over the world are expected to attend, as are local event organisers, hotel groups, destination management companies and suppliers from the food and beverage sector and their ancillary units. 
Since it was launched in 2008, the STTIM has enjoyed consistent growth with the 2013 edition seeing an increase of 20 percent in terms of floor space as it brought together more Arab and international companies engaged in the areas of tourism investment and services. 
STTIM has assumed greater significance in recent years as Saudi Arabia has continues to make significant investments in its travel and tourism sector on the back of rapid economic growth. The sector now contributes more than five percent of the country’s GDP and the Saudi government has plans to invest US$80 billion (SAR300 billion) to develop the country’s travel and tourism infrastructure by 2020, enabling the sector to play a bigger role in the diversification of the Saudi economy. According to projections by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Saudi travel and tourism sector has the potential to generate an income of more than US$48 billion (SAR180 billion) by the year 2022. 
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), the event’s organisers, are keen to position the kingdom as a destination for meetings and conferences. Currently, about 20 percent of international visitors are for business, with religion – understandably so, given the scale of the annual Hajj pilgrimage – still dominating the sector. 
However, Business Monitor International’s (BMI) Saudi Arabia Tourism Report Q4 2013 shows a rise in occupancy rates in the Eastern Province of over 80 percent during the summer. BMI’s forecast is of a 38.6 percent increase in visitor arrivals between the years 2013 and 2017, which equals almost 24 million arrivals by the end of 2017. 
In the light of such encouraging numbers, the Saudi government’s National Tourism Strategy, a 20-year programme launched in 2005 that aimed to promote tourism oriented projects, encourage new investments in the sector and train and equip the country’s citizens to take advantage of this opportunity, is bearing real fruit.

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