Tracy Lanza explores how Saudi Arabia is implementing the WTTC’s Global Summit’s theme of ‘Travel for a Better Future’ within its growth strategy.

The end of last year saw a series of historic milestones for Saudi Arabia, ensuring tourism fulfils its enormous potential as a driver of sustainable and inclusive development.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WWTC), one of the most influential travel and tourism events in our industry’s calendar, hosted its Global Summit in Riyadh for the first time. Hundreds of delegates from the public and the private sector convened to discuss the theme of ‘Travel for a Better Future’ and align on collaborative efforts towards a safer, resilient, and sustainable tomorrow. The forum’s action-packed agenda was a natural extension of the kingdom’s transformative strategies like Vision 2030, providing a crucial platform to connect government ambitions with private sector capacities. Players from across tourism, aviation, hospitality, business, and finance pledged to not just act locally, but create positive ripples well beyond the country’s boundaries.

Last year was also when great strides were made in addressing the climate emergency, with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman, announcing contributions worth US$2.5 billion to the Middle East Green Initiative over the next 10 years. As discussions at WTTC revealed, this endevour will be integral to promoting green investments in the tourism sector so that sustainability is no longer an afterthought but a top priority, and charting a future where innovative solutions in renewable energy, eco-hospitality, circular economy technologies, automated systems, and smart mobility become the new norm.

The announcement followed similar investments earmarked for the kingdom’s travel tourism sector valued at US$800 billion, providing even greater opportunity to realise the industry’s unique potential to drive the sustainability agenda. This rate of development, supported by plans to grow annual visitors to 100 million and accelerate revenues from 3 per cent of GDP to 10 per cent, not only reflects national ambitions to become one of the top five tourist destinations in the world, but also its accelerated and determined efforts towards responsible tourism.

This approach was most evident in recent mandates to target net zero emissions by 2060 – a steppingstone to not only ensuring we preserve and maintain the destinations we are developing, but also taking it a step further towards regeneration. The target helps place the kingdom at the heart of international efforts towards environmental targets, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the circular carbon economy (CCE) targets to manage greenhouse emissions across the world.

Armed with these ambitions, particular attention is being placed on eco-conscious travellers who not only have a thirst for new experiences but are increasingly aware of their impact on delicate ecosystems and communities. Successful destinations of the future, as we explored at WTTC, must both meet these evolving demands and empower visitors through eco-education and hands-on experiences to help them understand their role in the bigger picture.

If we pivot and direct growth in the right way, we can help save the planet by identifying key sustainable values, having the right policies, governance, and measurement structures in place, while embracing technology and data.

With so many global uncertainties, it is all too easy for sustainability to slip down the agenda. But it is our collective responsibility that must prevent this from happening.

Tracy Lanza is the group head of Global Branding and Marketing at Red Sea Global