'We would like the direct flights from Saudi Arabia to continue all year round'

Azzam bin Abdul Karim Al-Gain, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Spain, says the direct flights from Riyadh and Jeddah are important for tourism and investment on the Costa del Sol

PILAR MARTÍNEZ MALAGA.

Azzam bin Abdul Karim Al-Gain, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Spain, has a degree in political sciences from Columbus State University and an extensive international career behind him. He is also an admirer of the Costa del Sol, which he says he knows well, and he predicts strong growth for the region, not only in tourism but also in investment, and that is something to which the direct flights run by Saudi Airlines to and from Malaga will make a notable contribution. The ambassador hopes these summertime connections with Riyadh and Jeddah will be able to continue all year round.

–How important are the direct flights to Malaga?

–They reflect the high demand from Saudi tourists who want to visit the city and its beaches. Malaga province is home to many tourist resorts, such as Marbella, and the proximity to historical Andalusian cities like Granada, Cordoba and Seville mean that visitors to Malaga city can also discover the rich cultural heritage of Spain in general. So the resumption of these direct flights to Malaga represents a new economic, tourism and cultural connection, in addition to the links which our two friendly nations have enjoyed for so long.

PROFILE"Saudi tourists are classified as one of the nationalities who spend most"FORECAST"We hope the number of Saudi tourists who come to Malaga will double in the next few years" EXPECTATIONS"Malaga has the advantage of being a very attractive centre for foreign investment" ATTRACTIONS"The Costa del Sol is one of my favourite destinations. It combines authenticity and modernity"

–Are these flights expected to run all through the year?

–They are scheduled in response to demand and they aim to satisfy the interest of tourists who want to visit this destination. Although they usually run during the summer season, from July to September, we would like to see them continuing all through the year because it would mean that the positive signs for tourism in our two countries this year are continuing. It would also be the culmination of the efforts made by those responsible in this field in both countries to recover the levels of tourism after the pandemic. These efforts have long-term goals in line with the kingdom's 2030 strategy, which was launched by His Highness the Crown Prince in April 2016.

–What short-term projects are there to improve direct air connections with Malaga?

–The direct flights to Malaga from Riyadh and Jeddah not only satisfy the needs of tourism but also have repercussions for the commercial and business sector of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that of Spain. There is no doubt that this announcement will have a positive impact on Saudi business owners with investments in the Andalucía region, because the airline will be their main travel option between the two countries, as it will for people who travel for work and Saudi students at Andalusian universities.

More Saudi tourists

–How many travellers use these routes?

–We have noted that the number of Saudi tourists in Spain is constantly increasing, especially to Marbella and the Costa del Sol. In the period prior to the pandemic, more than 18,000 Saudi tourists arrived at Malaga airport. We hope that figure will double in the next few years, because that will enhance the relationship between our two countries, serve mutual economic interests and will be the culmination of the efforts of those responsible for this important sector in both of our countries.

–What are the distinguishing traits of Saudi tourists who come to Malaga?

–In addition to wanting to enjoy themselves and have fun, Saudi tourists are distinguished by their wish to learn about other customs, cultures and societies. They are also classified as one of the nationalities in the world who spend the most money. Also, most of the Saudi tourists who visit this region are young people who are always up to date with the collections of the most famous brands and always want to have them.

–What influence does the focus on technology and working from home in Malaga have?

–The city offers many investment opportunities for Saudi business owners who want to increase and internationalise their investments. The decision to locate the General Consulate of the Kingdom in this city aimed to achieve that objective and to provide services to the Saudis who are well-established in this region.

–Are there technology companies in Saudi Arabia who want to follow the example of Google and Vodafone, who have opened major centres in Malaga?

–There is no doubt that the city of Malaga has the advantage of being very attractive for foreign investment. As Forbes magazine has pointed out, it is a modern, innovative city with a diversified economy and is an ideal place to live, invest and work. Also, because of its global position, it is one of the candidate cities to host Expo 2027, and this would have an important positive impact on showcasing the city's strong points. All these factors and favourable conditions will increase the demand for foreign investment. We, for our part, are making great efforts to consolidate our economic and commercial relationships, including mutual investment, between the two countries. There are many forums in which entrepreneurs and investors on both sides participate. Maximising investment opportunities and expanding the internal and external base is one of the main objectives of the kingdom's Vision 2030 programme.

–With regard to Expo 2027 possibly being in Malaga, Riyadh is the candidate for the 2030 Expo. What would those two events mean to you?

–Yes, we are working hard on our bid to host Expo 2030 on the theme of 'The era of change: moving our planet towards the future'. In the past seven years the kingdom has made great advances in its transition towards a new future and has achieved ambitious targets on the economic, social, cultural, sporting and environmental levels, in line with Vision 2030. Spain is a world benchmark in the fields of economy, investment and tourism and will be present to benefit from the investment opportunities offered by this important international event. We hope Malaga is successful as a candidate to host Expo 2027.

–What surprises Saudi tourists the most when they come to this area?

–The sustainable development on the Costa del Sol and in Malaga city in particular, in terms of invention and technology. Malaga is not called the European Silicon Valley for nothing. Also, the diversity of its tourist destinations, including rural and popular tourism, because that is of interest to Saudi visitors.

–Have you visited the Costa del Sol regularly?

–Yes, it is one of my favourite destinations because it combines authenticity and modernity, and human and cultural richness.

–It is always said that visitors from Saudi Arabia enjoy a high purchasing power...

–Tourists from Saudi Arabia generally consider tourism to be a way of having a rest, a time for leisure and having fun, and they don't lose time looking for somewhere economical to stay or searching for a cheap restaurant; they prefer luxurious places. They also like to go shopping and discovering new places and the latest brands. So their budget for tourism tends to be high.