Houthi attacks no threat to Saudi resorts, says minister

Tourism minister Ahmed Al Khateeb says all the kingdom's projects are far away from the conflict


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Saudi Arabia's Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb speaks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Special Meeting in Riyadh. — AFP
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb speaks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Special Meeting in Riyadh. — AFP

Published: Sun 28 Apr 2024, 6:35 PM

Attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Red Sea shipping pose no threat to Saudi coastal resorts, the kingdom's tourism minister told AFP on Sunday at a summit focused on regional instability.

"What is happening is at the end of the Red Sea, at the very south of the Red Sea," Ahmed Al Khateeb said on the sidelines of a two-day World Economic Forum special meeting in the Saudi capital.

He was referring to the Houthis' campaign of drone and missile attacks targeting ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that the rebels say are linked to Israel.

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"All of our projects in the Red Sea or NEOM are in the middle and north of the Red Sea, far away from the conflict, and it is definitely not a target for the Houthis," Khateeb said.

Saudi Arabia mobilised an international military coalition against the Houthis in 2015, although a truce has largely held for the past two years.

The kingdom has since been seeking to open up to international tourism, which it sees as a vital engine of its Vision 2030 economic reform agenda meant to prepare the world's biggest crude exporter for a post-oil future.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has begun accepting guests at two resorts as part of its Red Sea Global coastal development, while the luxury yachting island Sindalah — part of the futuristic NEOM megacity — is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Saudi officials are also hoping to draw more tourists to the kingdom's mountainous southern region, a part of the country to which some diplomats were barred from flying because of the threat of Houthi attacks.

"The south is a very important product for us," Khateeb said on Sunday, adding that Asir province — which borders Yemen and is home to projects like the Soudah luxury mountain development — is "very safe, very stable".

The Houthis, who seized Yemen's capital Sanaa in 2014, began targeting Red Sea shipping in November in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians.

Their campaign comes in response to the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the Palestinian militants' unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Attacks by the Houthis have drawn reprisal strikes from the United States and Britain since January, and prompted Western naval forces to deploy in order to counter attacks on ships plying the busy commercial routes.

Despite regional tensions, Saudi Arabia recorded year-on-year growth of 10 per cent in tourism visits in the first quarter of 2024, Khateeb said on Sunday.

Last year it recorded 79 million domestic visits and 27 million international visits.

The revised target for 2030 is 150 million total visits — up from an earlier target of 100 million — including 70 million international visits.

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