Ghassan Khan, chief strategy officer at Cruise Saudi spoke of its plans to build and manage ports, cruise facilities and destinations showcasing the best of what Saudi Arabia has to offer in an Innovation Buzz Zone interview with Mary Bond at Seatrade Cruise Virtual: Expedition Cruising.
‘We are focussing on developing six destinations within the next few years but for this year we will be activating three cruise facilities along the Red Sea – Jeddah, Yanbu and Al Wajh,’ noted Khan.
When we talk about development we want to ensure sustainability and minimise the environmental impact as we want to keep our shores unspoilt so we will first be using existing facilities and upgrading them or expanding them but some developments in the future will be green field sites.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
Saudi Arabia has five UNESCO World Heritage sites – ‘three of which are close to the ports we are investing in,’ explained Khan.
‘We are in an age of mass tourism and selfie sticks and these sites are fresh air for expedition tourists.’
He picked out nature, culture and heritage as just three of the draws that Saudi Arabia can offer as a cruise destination.
‘This is the first time in decades that a new cruise destination has truly opened up and it’s really a milestone for us as a company and a country and I believe for the cruise industry as well,’ he added.
Khan remarked, ‘since we launched we have seen an overwhelming interest from cruise lines and partners who are interested in working in Saudi.’
As the architect and driver of cruising in Saudi Arabia we aim to be the one-stop-shop for whatever the cruise lines need, be it infrastructure, shorex, logistics and travel arrangements.
Khan and the team at Cruise Saudi hope to welcome homeporting cruise lines very soon and he also see huge potential for Saudi Arabia to become an important source market for the global cruise market:
‘Our country is within a 3hr flight from a population of 250m people living in Asia, Africa and Europe. As we drive investment in the tourism sector not only in sea ports, but world class airports and land connectivity and as we educate and open up cruising to Saudi tourists there is opportunity.
Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit ran a series of sailings here last summer targeted at the local source market and it generated a lot of interest, he said.
Asked to name three key factors of the appeal of Saudi Arabia as an expedition cruise destination Khan swiftly replied: captivating, accessible and authentic.
‘Saudi Arabia has something for everyone..it is rich in culture and appeals to a diverse spectrum of travellers seeking to discover unspoilt territories whether its diving in the Red Sea, trekking in the mountains or desert exploration. These experiences coupled with heritage, cuisine and our renowned hospitality makes it very appealing,’ he concluded.