You might think that Alhasan Aldabbagh, Saudi Tourism Authority's (STA) president of APAC Markets, spends all of his time in suits and boardrooms, but there is another side to him.
Alhasan has an alter ego: a biker. But his passion for adventure is not just a personal hobby – it also serves as an essential part of his job.
Despite his busy schedule, Alhasan makes time to go on road trips around the world, including Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, India, Korea, Singapore, and most recently, China, where he has learned valuable lessons about the tourism industry.
A key insight, according to the savvy globetrotter, is that connecting with people is essential to creating an enriching travel experience. He also seizes the opportunities to connect with locals and understand the nature of each market he visits, which helps him improve the traveller experience in Saudi Arabia, a country that is still relatively unknown to many travellers.
Through his roundtrips, Alhasan has gained priceless knowledge about the tourism industry. His primary takeaway is the importance of establishing a genuine connection with people to enhance the overall travel experience. Pictured: Edge of the World (Riyadh) Photo Credit: Instagram/@alhasan_dabbagh
"When I venture out to the countryside and rural areas, I witness things that may be missed by others. The bond I form with the locals is invaluable, and I aspire to recreate this experience for others. Saudi Arabia has numerous undiscovered treasures, and I would like to ensure that visitors from APAC can also relish in the same encounters,” he said.
It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that Alhasan started exploring his own country, and discovered hidden gems that he never knew existed. He learned about different subcultures, unique dialects, and music.
Among his favourite destinations are Ushaiqer Heritage Village, that dates back to the 18th century showcasing Saudi’s traditional architecture, customs, and cultural heritage; and the Madain Saleh Mountains, which features a labyrinth of caves and alleys that evoke an Indiana Jones-esque sense of adventure. These destinations are just a few of the many hidden gems that Alhasan believes will appeal to travellers of all ages.
Ushaiqer Heritage Village in Saudi Arabia is a well-preserved traditional Najdi village, showcasing unique culture and architecture where visitors can engage in various activities and experience the local customs and traditions. Photo Credit: Saudi Tourism Authority
While his frequent trips overseas have given him a wealth of insights into the tourism industry, Alhasan still sees challenges that must be overcome for Saudi tourism. One of the biggest obstacles, according to him, is the preconceived notions that many people have about Saudi Arabia.
With a strong commitment to challenging preconceptions about Saudi Arabia, STA is paving the way for new tourism opportunities that will draw visitors from all corners of the globe. This burgeoning country is quickly gaining recognition as a world-class destination for sports and entertainment, having hosted a range of high-profile events such as the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah; Super Cups, MDLBeast in Riyadh, and the much-celebrated Saudi Seasons, which offers a dynamic showcase of cultural and lifestyle entertainment.
In addition, STA is also looking at developing innovative tools and incentives to aid travel agents in effectively promoting Saudi Arabia as an irresistible destination.
One of these tools is the Saudi Expert platform, a new online resource aimed at providing tourism partners with a comprehensive suite of knowledge, visuals, and videos to help travel agents educate themselves about Saudi Arabia and effectively promote the destination to their clients.
Travel back in time at Diriyah, a historic site in Riyadh, where the first Saudi state was founded, featuring ancient districts and palaces. Photo Credit: Saudi Tourism Authority
“Selling Saudi is like discovering a gold mine, as visitors are sure to be delighted by the country's unique charm. Despite the diversity of the APAC region, there are many shared values, such as a strong emphasis on family connections. Saudi Arabia's pride in its cultural heritage, including Hafawah – Saudi's cultural value of generosity and hospitality – is deeply rooted in the country's DNA.
"Unlike other destinations, Saudi is the true home of Arabia, with opportunities to connect with locals through shopping and other social activities. In Saudi Arabia, visitors are immersed in the country's vibrant culture and can experience firsthand the warmth and hospitality of its people.”
Looking to the future, Alhasan is optimistic about the growth of Saudi Arabia's tourism industry. He notes that the kingdom is brimming with diverse offerings, from cultural and historical attractions to adventure and luxury experiences that will leave visitors in awe.