WITH the busiest time of year ahead for religious travel to Saudi Arabia, tourism in the Kingdom is in the media spotlight. According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, more than 1.8 million foreign pilgrims travelled to Hajj in 2011, with all evidence pointing to continued increase over the next few years.
In the first quarter of 2012 alone, 2.9 million foreign tourists visited the country, spending nearly $1.9 billion according to a report released by the Tourism Information and Research Centre. Inbound tourists represent about 77 per cent of total tourists, with 23 per cent spending only one night in the country.
Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Egypt registered as the top five countries sending tourists to Saudi Arabia during Q1, with domestic tourists also an important contributor to tourism receipts.
“Inbound tourism is mostly for business and religious reasons, and there are a lot of new projects happening in Saudi Arabia in terms of construction, infrastructure, new centres, and especially in Mecca where there is a rapid expansion to the holy sites,” said Thierry Bertin, vice president of World Wide Sales for Hyatt International – South West Asia.
Three new Hyatt hotels are opening in close proximity to several religious sites, including the holiest shrine of Islam – Al Masjid Al-Haram or the Sacred Mosque, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah, and Mina.
“Hajj is definitely the busiest time of year for tourism in the Kingdom, but many regionally-based Muslims still visit the holy sites to pray as many as three times a year,” added Bertin.
But outbound tourism in Saudi is also seeing a surge, with 74 per cent of Saudi nationals planning to travel every year – a higher percentage among GCC and Arab states.
Prior to the recent instability in the region, Saudi travellers tended to favour Egypt, Syria and Lebanon for their holidays, and instead are now targeting other options.
“Now, Saudi holidaymakers head to key destinations for longer holidays: Istanbul, Paris and London. For shorter periods, it’s Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur. They’re all very ‘Gulf-friendly’ and offer good shopping, facilities and entertainment,” said Bertin.
According to a 2012 report from Visa on spending in the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s spending shot up nearly 74 per cent over 2011, making visitors from the Kingdom the fourth biggest spenders behind the UK, Russia and the US.
The majority of tourist spending goes on shopping and accommodation, such as hotels or extended-stay serviced apartments. Hotel guests are looking for unique, bespoke experiences to suit their needs at a competitive price – authentic and select hospitality is a key trend that Hyatt continues to take the lead on, in Saudi Arabia and across the globe.
Hyatt Hotels are currently expanding their presence in Saudi Arabia. In February of this year, Hyatt announced that it had opened a worldwide sales office in Saudi Arabia and had entered into agreements with Naseel Holding Company to manage three new Hyatt-branded hotels in the Kingdom. In April this year Hyatt announced plans for Hyatt Regency Riyadh in agreement with Mohammed A. Al Swailem Co for Commercial Investment, marking seven Hyatt-branded hotels under development in Saudi Arabia across five of Hyatt’s brands.
Currently, there is one Hyatt-branded hotel in Saudi Arabia, Park Hyatt Jeddah – Marina, Club and Spa, which opened in 2009.
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