DAMMAM Amer Al-Mutairi, director general of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA) in the Eastern Province, said that the approval of three ministries are required to get licenses issued to operate rural tourism projects.

The application for the license to practice the activity shall be submitted through the website of the Ministry of Tourism. Then, the rest of the procedures will be completed through the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing, Al-Watan newspaper reported quoting him as saying.

Al-Mutairi said that there are seven requirements from MEWA to obtain a license. The approval of three ministries is one of them. Other requirements are the following: the farm is owned by the license holder through a legal title deed and the farm shall be lively and productive and the tourism activity should be additional element.

In addition, the percentage of buildings in the farm should not be more than 30 percent; each unit in the facility must include at least one bedroom with other amenities; the height of the units shall not be more than two floors; and the building must be under a license from the competent municipality.

Al-Mutairi said the ministry’s support for the establishment of agricultural tourism projects or “Rural rest houses” shall be through creating an advanced online platform titled Reef Program, which provides financial support in accordance with the specific requirements for tourism activities, which are built on agricultural lands.

Investors seek removal of bottlenecks

Meanwhile, several investors in tourism projects expressed their concerns and reservations about what they called the lack of clarity or ambiguity in licensing procedures, and difficulties in obtaining licenses for rural tourism projects, especially in the center of the Al-Ahsa agricultural oasis, which is an ideal destination for rural tourism projects.

They noted that the entry of Al-Ahsa Oasis in the UNESCO World Heritage List as the largest palm oasis in the world and Al-Ahsa as the capital of Arab tourism, did not help it to overcome the hurdles that stand in the way of completing the licensing procedures. They underlined the need to ensure active involvement of private sector in tourism investment projects within the “green economy” oasis.

The investors noted that the issue of land title deeds is the major reason for the difficulties hampering licensing procedures, as some agricultural holdings do not have updated title deeds while some of them have old documents and other issues. They called for linking licensing requirements and procedures within only one agency, instead of multiple government agencies.

Shaker Al-Alio, a tourism promoter and former head of the tourism committee in the Al-Ahsa Municipal Council, stated that the tireless efforts are being made by those involved in tourism projects and activities to provide tourists and visitors a distinctive experience in Al-Ahsa in its capacity as a major cultural and tourism destination within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

On his part, Ali Al-Sultan, a former member of the Al-Ahsa Municipal Council, called on government agencies related to the preservation of the oasis, to review the geographical location of Al-Ahsa as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, within the agricultural oasis, by disposing of agricultural holdings in a way that contributes to encouraging agricultural tourism.

The investors noted that there are several stalled tourism projects in Al-Ahsa due to issues related to title deeds and licenses. These projects include educational farm for kids; plant and flower sanctuary; tourist resorts; and agricultural greenhouses.

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