Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Bin Andul Aziz Al Hokair
Hounder of Al Hokair Group
Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz Al Hokair has had the same crystal clear vision right from the beginning. Widely known as the 'sheikh of Gulf tourism', he was one of the earliest investors in the field. While the government of Saudi Arabia has only just begun to gradually open up its treasures to the millions interested in visiting the country, Al Hokair Groupfor Tourism and Development, today one of the largest dedicated to tourism and entertainment in KSA, pioneered the early development of the sector back in the sixties, building its first small theme park in the Malaz district of Riyadh back in 1965 when nobody would invest a single halala on anything unrelated to oil.
In the following five decades, Al Hokair Group has expanded into new fields and grown dramatically in scale. Al Hokair Group now has more than 6,000 employees and plays a leading role in the fields of entertainment, leisure and tourism. The Group's portfolio includes more than 70 amusement and theme parks, a number of international restaurant franchises and the largest chain of hotels and recreational cities in the Middle East, amounting to 27 properties.
“In the industry he is known as the 'sheikh of Gulf tourism',” says Fadi Mazkour, Director of Business Development and Marketing of Al Hokair Group, “because of his vision to develop tourism in the KSA and start promoting the country as a destination, which was a new idea that took everybody by surprise at the time. KSA was not seen as a travel destination due to the difficulties in obtaining visas and to circulate normally, and because of all the restrictions in general.” But the country always had plenty of historical sites and breathtaking landscapes on offer. Many of these potentially attractive destinations are now being developed for local and GCC tourism. HRH Prince Sultan and the SCTA are now committed to open both remote desert areas and populous urban areas for tourism.
However, while the authorities feel the international pressure to change things in the kingdom faster and more drastically than what is happening now, Mazkour adds, “they want to respect and maintain traditions and basic beliefs and they want the people to see this and know about it. We should not just talk about these issues as 'restrictions', but also see them as respect for traditions.”
“In every tourist fair abroad which we visit, such as recently in London and Berlin, we can feel a real interest in the country, and it is not only Muslims who want to find out more about the history and traditions and the archaeological remains in the country,” Mazkour continues. “Although on the level of entertainment, KSA is not a very attractive destination - with no cinemas, no nightlife, etcetera - it is still an attractive proposition for families. And furthermore, there is a simple equation at work here: an unknown, little visited place that opens up for the first time is sure to become a top destination,” he predicts.