Where will the travel capitals of the future be? We talk to Muzzammil Ahussain, CEO of Almosafer, to find out.

Reports show that people are craving travel to more little-known locations. Why do you think this is?

With travel at its peak post-pandemic, there is a certain fatigue that has set in among intrepid travellers with regards to popular holiday destinations. People today crave the unknown, the thrill of exploring the less-travelled road, since it offers them a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to discover virgin territories. It is also, in many ways, less expensive to travel away from popular destinations that can get crowded during peak season. This trend also explains the renewed interest in Saudi Arabia, with tourists seeking cultural experiences provided by our UNESCO site Diriyah, AlUla, and Umluj.

Is this a regional or global trend?

Both. Internationally, we have seen more people eyeing luxury getaways and experiential tourism across the wider GCC, Europe, and Asia, with trending destinations including Turkey and Thailand, fuelled by easy visa accessibility. Saudi Arabia offers international as well as domestic travellers a chance to immerse themselves in authentic experiences. As per our domestic data trend revealed at the 2024 Saudi Tourism Forum, over 40 per cent of the total bookings on Almosafer are from the domestic market. Among the top growing destinations in the Kingdom, AlUla is the preferred luxury option; Jazan and Tabuk are winter favourites, and Abha is a popular destination for families to spend the summer break. Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, and Makkah and Madinah remain the most popular destinations in terms of room nights sold.

What makes the Middle East so appealing to global travellers now? 

The Middle East has always had an aura of mystique for intrepid travellers across the years. Today it’s become a global hub for international travel, with the top three global airlines headquartered out of the Middle East. It enjoys a geographical dividend, being centrally located in the global flight path and juxtaposed by huge demographic catchments on both sides. Global travellers are also attracted by the perfect balance of culture and modernity. With the opening up of Saudi Arabia, international tourists are making a beeline for the country, attracted by its rich cultural heritage and the development of experiential tourism.

What other factors matter to the average modern traveller? 

The modern traveller is a conscious traveller. With greater awareness and interest in sustainable tourism, many are actively seeking to immerse themselves in authentic experiences, which is what many of Saudi Arabia’s homegrown tourist attractions like AlUla and the Red Sea offer. Almosafer’s data also shows that travellers are willing to spend money on luxurious accommodations. 

How do the Middle Eastern consumer’s preferences differ from those elsewhere in the world?

The Middle East consumer is today spoilt for choice as far as travel is concerned. They are already used to a global standard of service in their countries, and our research has shown they don’t mind spending on luxurious stays even if they prefer budget flights to their destinations. They enjoy the best in hospitality and travel services, and they are not willing to compromise on these.

What are your predictions for the hottest travel spots of the future?

With governments worldwide focusing on tourism to fuel their economic growth, there is currently a spurt in budgetary allocation into the sector. As such, who is to say? Many of the historic as well as trending current travel destinations could be reinvigorated to meet the demands of the future travellers. On a lighter note, space is the new frontier for those seeking an out-of-this-world experience. Speaking of futuristic travel, with its pristine beaches, majestic mountains and vast unexplored deserts, Neom is the next tech-luxury hospitality destination. With a key focus on sustainable tourism, there will also be a renewed interest in places that offer not just a spectacular experience, but also one that caters to the conscious traveller, with mindfulness and mutual respect of the biodiversity of nature. If other countries follow the example of Saudi, there is no reason why the hottest travel destinations of the future won’t emerge from one of the existing emerging markets be it Global South or New Europe.

What’s your favourite destination? 

I truly enjoy travelling whether for work or with my family, and have been to over 40 countries so far, so picking one is really hard. Undoubtedly within Saudi Arabia, my absolute favourite spot to visit is Makkah. Saudi Arabia’s luxury tourism sector is booming and I look forward to visiting the Red Sea, where luxury, sustainability and innovation meet to offer a spectacular experience. In Europe, I really enjoy visiting London, especially during summer when it can get really warm here in the region.

What would you never travel without?

The Almosafer app for one! It’s part of my essential travel apps and helps to keep me updated on live flight status, which is crucial, living as we do at an age where time is of great premium. The nature of my job requires me to stay connected 24/7, so needless to say my laptop goes wherever I do. Comfortable loafers are another must, especially considering all the walking we need to do within airports as well as outside.

Almosafer is Saudi Arabia’s leading travel company. Its portfolio caters to every vertical across the travel and tourism ecosystem.