Changing face of Saudi Arabia's tourism sector


Expected to generate more than $25 billion this year – approximately 3.3 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP – the kingdom’s tourism sector is poised for major growth over the next few years, with a focus on the family travel segment, both from domestic and international markets.

Tourism will also play a major role in reducing Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil revenues, according to experts speaking at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2019.

In a panel discussion titled ‘Why Tourism is Saudi’s New ‘White Oil’’, which took place on Arabian Travel Market’s (ATM)Global Stage, representatives from Saudia Private Aviation (SPA), Dur Hospitality, Colliers International MENA, Marriott International, Jabal Omar Development Company and Saudi General Investment Authority discussed opportunities related to upcoming tourist-focused developments and visa reforms.

Reema Al Mokhtar, head of Destination Marketing, Jabal Omar Development Company, said: “Our country has beautiful geographic diversity and a host of cultural attractions so, once visitors come into the kingdom and see the different projects lined up for them, I think it will market itself.”

Saudi Arabia’s domestic tourist trips are projected to rise by 8 per cent in 2019, while inbound visits from international markets are expected to grow by 5.6 per cent per year, according to research conducted by Colliers on behalf of ATM 2019.

The tourism and entertainment industries are an important and essential part of the Saudi Vision 2030, especially that the Kingdom has versatile tourist destinations, that include several coastal sites, marvellous islands and distinguished heritage areas, which can become one of the key tourist and entertainment attractions in the Middle East just within a few years.

In figures, mega tourist projects in the Kingdom, represented and implemented by the Public Investment Fund, spread over an area of more than 64,634 sq km, with a value exceeding $810 billion.

These schemes include the Qiddiyah Project, holding an area of 334 sq km in Riyadh, with a value exceeding $10 billion. While NEOM, in the western coast is over an area of 26,500 sq km with a budget exceeding $500 billion. The third project is Amaala "the Saudi Riviera," in the northern region with an area of 3,800 sq km, and developing islands in the Red Sea with a total area of 34,000 sq km. In addition, SCTH will be developing museums in various Saudi regions, and preserving Saudi heritage with a cost of more than $1.3 billion. Saudi Arabia foresees that the national tourism will significantly contribute to the gross domestic product as the most growing non-oil economic sector.

The total number of inbound and outbound tourist trips in the Kingdom is expected to reach 62 million trips, where tourism revenues are anticipated to exceed SR142 billion ($37 billion) by the end of 2020.

With the creation of new local attractions thanks to the Quality of Life Vision Realization Program and the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), Saudi Arabia’s overall number of tourist trips is on course to hit 93.8 million by 2023, up from 64.7 million in 2018.

By helping Saudi Arabia to further boost its domestic and inbound tourist numbers, panellists agreed that ‘giga’ developments will prove crucial in helping to meet the economic diversification targets set out in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director Marriott ME&A, Marriott International, said: “The challenge to date has been a lack of opportunities for domestic tourists. However, if you look at developments like The Red Sea Project and Qiddiyah, which are completely reinventing destinations that will appeal to Saudi residents, you will find everything from hospitality and wellness to entertainment and sports. For many segments of the local population, these projects will stimulate spending in the country.”

According to Dr Badr Al Badr, CEO, Dur Hospitality, the Mice sector will be the first to pick up Saudi Arabia, followed by the general tourism sector. “Conferences and exhibitions will be the one to take off in terms of tourism inflow and investment in Saudi Arabia, Dr Al Badr said.

Visa-related improvements are also expected to drive growth in Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector. With the roll-out of 30-day Umrah Plus Visas, eVisas for tourists and specialist visas for events such as the Formula E Championship’s E-Prix, the kingdom looks set to attract more international visitors than ever before.

* With inputs from staff writers