Abdulelah Al-Tokhais is currently a 3rd year PhD Student at the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute at University of Florida. Originally from Saudi Arabia, he plans to return after completing his doctoral studies to reassume his position as faculty at the King Saud University, in the College of Tourism and Archaeology.


Nationality: Saudi Arabia 

Past working experience: Worked in restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, and as research and teaching assistant at King Saud University 

Unforgettable UF Experience: Hurricane Irma 

Favorite past project: Documenting building heritage structures in St Augustine 

Valuable learning from EFTI and UF: Growth of knowledge and new research techniques, and being able to take classes and collaborate with different departments 

Favorite past travel experience: Peru, visiting Machu Picchu was a dream he has since childhood 

Dream place to visit: Everywhere, his bucket list is long! He would love to check some places from Latin America of the list soon: Guatemala, Cuba, Panama, Argentina... 

Hobbies: Hiking and swimming 

Management issues and challenges of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia

Abdulelah Al-Tokhais & Brijesh Thapa

Abstract: Saudi Arabia has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) and plans to submit additional sites for inscription in the future. With the current level of tourist visitation to the country and potential new influx, this creates major impacts for sites that lack resources for preservation and management. The purpose of this research note is to examine management issues and challenges of WHS in Saudi Arabia via a review of academic papers, reports from the World Heritage Centre and International Council of Monuments and Sites, and government documents. Findings identify common challenges and concerns that include resource allocation, obstacles to implement management plans, pressure from increased tourism and urban development, and associated environmental impacts. The implications call for sustainable management of the WHS in the country.

Stakeholder Perspectives Towards National Parks and Protected Areas in Saudi Arabia

Abdulelah Al-Tokhais and Brijesh Thapa

Abstract: There is a genuine need to examine stakeholders’ perception of biodiversity conservation andtourismdevelopmentduetooverlappingrolesandconflictingprioritiesamongkeygovernmental agencies in Saudi Arabia. The need to understand the role of each stakeholder group will assist to support policy formulation and implementation, along with effective practices. Within this context, the purpose of this study was to examine stakeholder perspectives towards National Parks and Protected Areas in Saudi Arabia. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews from11stakeholders’representativeofpublic,private,andnon-governmentalorganizationsfromthe tourism and conservation community. Findings revealed four main themes—tourism development, management issues, development challenges, and policy concerns. In addition, multiple sub-themes within each were further categorized. Overall, findings highlight the need to form a foundation for sustainable tourism development that aims to conserve biodiversity and provide opportunities for local communities to ensure economic growth. Implications for development in National Parks and Protected Areas in Saudi Arabia are also noted.

More about Abdulelah…

Growing up in a desert environment, Abdulelah learned from early ages the importance of conserving and preserving the limited natural and cultural heritage resources on this planet. His passion for conservancy led him to pursue his doctoral degree focusing on Sustainable Tourism, Policy, and Planning as well as Natural and Cultural Heritage Conservation. While studying natural and cultural heritage, Abdulelah seeks to find opportunities to create sustainable development for heritage sites through tourism. Ecotourism and cultural heritage tourism are sustainable development and conservation tools, which are key for community empowerment and economy growth, along with environmental and cultural awareness. In one of his articles, Abdulelah analyzed the currently five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia, bringing attention to increased urban development and tourism, and the consequential environmental impacts of these advancement. In the study he discusses the need for sustainable management of these sites, efficiently regulating carrying capacity, educating visitors, and increasing research and proper training of managers in collaboration with academic institutions.  

When reflecting about immediate application of his work on the tourism industry, Abdulelah highlights the capability of mitigating management issues on natural and cultural heritage sites and Involving stakeholders in decision-making process to avoid future conflicts. It is just when community is in the center of any tourism planning and development that a sustainable development is reached. Through these practices, managers can achieve a better destination image, maximize the benefits of tourism, while minimizing the negative impacts on the environment and quality of life of local communities.   


Being advised by Dr. Brijesh Thapa, Abdulelah applies a mix approach of research methodology in his projects, using qualitative technique to interview key stakeholders that have a stake or concern with regards to conservation and tourism related issues, as well as quantitative technique. Working towards broaden his skill set, Abdulelah is happy with the opportunity he had of taking classes in other departments at the university, such as marketing, communication, geography, Latin American studies and his favorite: historic preservation.  

In 2018, Abdul collaborated with the department of Historic Preservation in projects in Gainesville and in Saint Augustine, which he enthusiastically highlights as “the oldest city in the United States”. When documenting the heritage resources of the coastal city, the group utilized mapping and laser-scanning techniques to analyze the 16th century buildings and understand the city’s structure layers, which has been used in restoring the built heritage when needed, along with adaptive reuse of buildings. Studies such as the one Abdulelah collaborated in St. Augustine of identifying, documenting and mapping historical buildings permits tourism and city planners to better understand what the city has to offer and how to improve the use of these assets for leisure and business alike.