Kuwait City and the Saudi capital of Riyadh have been listed among the top 20 most unfriendly cities in the world by readers of a prestigious US-based travel magazine.
American magazine Condé Nast Traveler’s latest survey of ‘The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the World’ listed two Gulf cities among the top 20 least attractive to visit.
The Saudi capital of Riyadh was listed as number 15 on the unfriendliest list. “7.5 million people live in this busy megacity," one reader was quoted as saying, "and they all seem to be on the road in cars at once! You don't actually see many pedestrians here— the streets are not built for them!" While the review said there was a "growing trend toward tourist attractions," the magazine’s readers recommended tourists to “avoid unless on business.” Another reader reported that the “people are rude.”
This could all change in the coming years as last month Saudi Arabia announced it was planning a year-round events calendar to boost tourism outside of the traditional Hajj and Umrah periods, the head of the kingdom’s tourism commission told Arab News.
Various festivals drawing in domestic and foreign tourists generated SR17bn in revenues in the past eight years, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) president Prince Sultan bin Salman said.
Saudi Arabia, home to many of the holiest Islamic sites, including Makkah, receives majority of its tourism income from pilgrims, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and the last month of the Islamic calendar, when the Hajj is performed.
Prince Sultan announced plans to boost tourism in the kingdom during 2014-2018, including developing events year-round. Many of the events would target domestic tourism, families and youth.
Ranked at number five on the unfriendliest list was Kuwait City. "Good food and shopping, nothing really to see," one reader said, while another said they “typically avoid travel to Kuwait unless there's no other choice. One of the most unfriendly places in the Middle East.”
For years business leaders have called for the Kuwait government to do more to promote tourism in the Gulf state.
In June, Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi, a member of the executive committee of MA Al-Kharafi & Sons, the influential conglomerate which has investments in 25 countries around the world and employs more than 120,000 employees, echoed these sentiments for more to be done to promote the country as a visitor destination.
“I definitely think the government is missing something not presenting Kuwait as a tourist destination.”
While Dubai has positioned itself as a high profile tourism hub, with bars, nightclubs, theme parks and other attractions, Al Kharafi believed Kuwait could promote itself as a family-friendly destination if it had the right attractions to place to bring in tourists.
“You can have entertainment, shopping malls and activities and things... you don’t need the bars and nightclubs. When you go to Dubai you don’t want to go to the nightclubs, you want to spend time with [the family] and go skiing or go to Disneyland.
“I am sure Dubai is going to come with Disneyland soon but if you had a Disneyland Kuwait that would be a great attraction. [The government] can have a part in it but I think the private sector would be able to manage it better,” he added.
It is not the first time the Kuwait government’s tourism record has been called into question.
Sheikh Mubarak AM Al Sabah, chairman of Kuwait-based hotelier Action Hotels told Arabian Business in August 2010 there was “limited tourism in Kuwait” due to a lack of promotion and infrastructural support by the government.
“We are a very liberal country and no different from any other GCC state but we are not promoted. The lack of infrastructure is not there to attract tourists to be a hub,” he said.
The Kuwaiti government tried once before to boost its fledgling tourism industry, launching a 20-year plan in association with the World Tourism Organisation in 2005.
The aim was develop new resorts and hotels and the Kuwaiti Hotel Owner Association forecast that more than 3,000 rooms would enter the market over the following five years.
“It’s a great country with wonderful people and down the line dependency on oil revenues alone will not help things move in the longer horizon. Like UAE, Kuwait should also diversify into other industries and tourism would be one of the key drivers to focus with,” D'souza said.
The full list of cities in the rankings is listed below:
1. Florianopolis, Brazil
2. Hobart, Tasmania
3. Thimpu, Bhutan
4. Queenstown, New Zealand
5. Charleston, South Carolina
6. Paro, Bhutan
Equal 6. Margaret River, Australia
7. Mandalay, Burma
9. Kilkenny, Ireland
Equal 9. Ubud, Bali
10. Chiang Mai, Thailand
1. Newark, New Jersey
2. Islamabad, Pakistan
3. Oakland, California
4. Luanda, Angola
5. Kuwait City, Kuwait
6. Lome, Togo
7. New Haven, Connecticut
8. Detroit, Michigan
9. Atlantic City, New Jersey
10. Tangier, Morocco