Tourists in Saudi 'want to be able to drink' says AccorHotels CEO

Tourists visiting Saudi Arabia will want to be able ‘to drink and enjoy music’, according to the global CEO of AccorHotels.

Speaking to Arabian Business, Sébastien Bazin said the kingdom will need to make certain exceptions for tourists in order to attract visitors to the country.

“… a destination means people want to live. They want to have fun. They want to be able to enjoy music. They may want to be able to drink. Maybe the [Saudi] government in place will allow it only in certain destinations…NEOM is one of the examples of what they will be exempting from many local rules,” the CEO said.

Bazin suggested the kingdom could learn “lessons” from regional tourist hubs such as Dubai.

“…That has to be in place, otherwise you won’t be attracting tourists. Dubai made it happen, so there are a lot of lessons to be taken from the Middle East,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion NEOM project, which is being built on the Red Sea coast, will welcome “all the living standards, all the living styles and community,” according to CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr.

The project was unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 as the kingdom looks to diversify its economy away from oil and grow its tourism sector.

Bazin said he expects tourism to grow in Saudi Arabia over the next three years.

“[Tourism in Saudi Arabia] is a very difficult subject. It will happen. The Saudi people are extremely welcoming. [There’s] no question about it. It will take a shorter time than people expect – probably three years, not 10 years,” he said.

“I am astonished by the size of investment. I will never bet against the Middle East. They have proven to us in the last 40 years that when they want something accomplished, it gets done. So NEOM will exist. I don’t know whether it will be 5 or 10 years from now,” he said.

AccorHotels operates 48 hotels in Saudi Arabia, with brands such as Novotel, ibis, Pullman, Fairmont and others present in the kingdom.

Bazin said AccorHotels “need to be a part of” tourism growth in Saudi Arabia, as the country is ideally located four and a half hours away from Europe and boasts “a similar sea environment” to the Maldives and Seychelles.

“But you will have to actually achieve [and] go through many steps to make it happen,” he said.

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