RIYADH, 13 April 2004 — Some 180 travel agencies face possible closure unless they submit details of all their staff before a new April 18 deadline.

The new date was announced here yesterday evening following a meeting of a special task force of the Supreme Commission for Tourism (SCT) convened to discuss the lackluster response from travel agencies to the original April 5 deadline.

Speaking after the meeting at SCT headquarters, Mohammed Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, the director of SCT’s project for human resources development, warned of “drastic measures” against travel agencies who fail to comply “because the staff list is an essential component of the new Saudization strategy on which SCT is currently working.”

“A number of travel agencies in Riyadh region have also not responded to SCT instructions so far,” he said.

There are more than 2,100 travel agencies across the Kingdom including 300 in Riyadh alone.

The Saudization task force is composed of representatives from the SCT, the Ministry of Labor, the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training (GOTEVOT), the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF), the Institute of Public Administration, Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce & Industry (CSCCI), Presidency of Civil Aviation and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Al-Ghamdi said members of the task force including the Presidency of Civil Aviation and IATA agreed to close down some travel agencies.

“SCT has only three months to prepare a Saudization plan and submit it to the Manpower Council,” he said, vowing the deadline for submission would not be extended again.

SCT was working with government agencies and the private sector to assess overall training capacity “to ensure smooth replacement of foreign workers with trained Saudi nationals in the travel industry,” he said.

SCT wants to establish how many Saudis can be trained with existing facilities before it invests in expansion and determines who to turn to for help.

“We will also be holding talks with IATA officials to find out as how they can help us in training our manpower for travel and tourism industry,” Al-Ghamdi said.

All front desk jobs in travel agencies are to be Saudized by the end of the year, another extended deadline after a draconian crackdown on foreign travel agency workers sparked an outcry last month.

“We are seeking to achieve 81 percent Saudization of the travel sector within the next three years,” the official said.

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