His Royal Highness (HRH) spoke candidly with Brett Baier, host of “Special Report” on the Fox News Channel with no question being off the table. From the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the 22-year anniversary of 9/11, to golf and tourism, it was an enlightening conversation.
Being brutally honest, Baier explained that with the history of Saudi Arabia just mentioned, some people may feel reluctant to visit. He asked the Prince what he would say to these people. His response was that Saudi Arabia is changing, and it is today the greatest success story of the 21st century. He said it would be their call if they wanted to miss that or not.
The Prince and Baier took a stroll along a beach after the interview on the island of Sindalah – one of 5 islands Saudi Arabis is developing in the Red Sea. HRH explained that currently there are a total of 22 islands under construction and more are going to be announced. Sindalah will open next year, and that is just the beginning, because of the 1,150 islands in the Red Sea, Saudi’s aim is to develop half of them.
HRH wants the world to realize Saudi Arabia has so much to offer – that is isn’t just the desert which is what most people think. As an example, he shared that the Aging Winter Games in 2029 are going to be held on Snow Mountain. Yes, snow. These is snow in Saudi Arabia in the winter. And there are also valleys, oases, and those islands – tropical, mountainous, sandy – so many types to choose from.
From No Saudi Arabia Tourism to Open Doors
He said to inspire the Saudi economy, they have to work in all sectors – from mining, manufacturing, and logistics to infrastructure, transportation, and tourism. Saudi Arabia only opened its borders to tourists in 2019 just 4 short years ago. HRH said:
“If you want to have tourism, you need to develop your culture sector, your entertainment sector, and your sports sector, because you need to create a calendar.”
He explained that where tourism used to bring in 3% GDP to the country, it was now 7%, and sports has gone from 0.4% GDP to 1.5%. As far as global visits go, Saudi Arabia ranks number 10 in the world for total global visits. In 2022, they reached 40 million visits from Saudi Arabia and globally. The goal is to reach 100 million visits in 2030, perhaps even 150 million. According to the Tourism Minister, the Prince keeps setting a new goal. In his defense, HRH said that is because they keep reaching their goal so fast.
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New National Identity
Baier talked about how people were so excited when Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in the soccer World Cup and wondered if that might change the dynamic and national identity of the country. HRH admitted that he and his brothers watched the games together only hoping they did not suffer any humiliation and were happily surprised when they won.
The country is spending tons on sports in the form of big names, lots of money, big teams, and new facilities. Some are calling this sports washing, claiming the country is using sports to improve the nation’s image. HRH answered that by saying Saudi has had a 1% growth of GDP from sports, so he was now aiming for 1.5%. He said people can call it whatever they want – he has no problem with the term sports washing as long as he gets to that 1.5%.
While talking about sports, HRH was asked if he was a golfer. He replied that he was a beginner, so not so good. Being the Crown Prince obviously takes up most of his time, so he doesn’t have much to put into practice, but he said he tries to do his best.
That’s a Wrap
In wrapping things up, Baier asked HRH what he does when he wants to relax. His answer? Video games! He said he has been into video games since he was a child. In fact, there is a big video game part of his ministry. The Prince responded that eSports is the most important thing happening globally as the most growing industry on the planet, expanding 50% every year, so the PIF return on investment every year is 15 to 25% of profit. The industry is beating Hollywood today with something like 2 billion views on an esport video which is bigger than a Hollywood movie.
But when he’s outdoors, he likes to hike, dive, and of course, golf, even if it is – for now – badly.