The kingdom hopes for 100 million visits by 2030 as it switches from the oil sector to a more resilient economy.
Saudi Arabia is set to spend more than $1 trillion on tourism over the next decade to attract 100 million visitors by 2030 and diversify its predominantly oil economy.
According to a special report recently released by Entrepreneur Middle East in partnership with Lucidity Insights, the kingdom is transitioning from religious to leisure tourism, which is seen as a key sector in its Vision 2030 program to modernize the country’s economy.
Erika Masako Welch is Director of Special Reports Content at Entrepreneur Middle East and helped write the report. She told The Media Line that Saudi Arabia hopes to become a world leader in tourism.
“Working [women] are entering the workforce at breakneck speed,” said Masako Welch. “Ten or 15 years ago you had maybe 5% of the Saudi female population in the workforce and now it’s 34%. There are a lot of jobs that young Saudis are fighting for, and those jobs wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the development of entirely new industries in technology and tourism.”
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia announced that it had signed Argentine football great Lionel Messi as its new tourism ambassador. Arriving in the kingdom for the Jeddah Season arts and culture festival, Messi uploaded a sponsored Instagram post from a yacht in the Red Sea with the hashtag #VisitSaudi.
Leisure tourism accounted for 55% of all global travel in 2019, according to a Masako Welch report sponsored by Saudia Airlines. Saudi Arabia has largely relied on religious visitors to make the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages and is currently building its leisure portfolio from scratch.
“They’re not exactly new to welcoming strangers, but they’re new to welcoming everyone,” she said. “Before, it was just Muslim pilgrims, and this is big business. That in itself has made Saudia Airlines as big as British Airways.”
Masako Welch recently visited the kingdom to better understand how their tourism industry is developing and said she noticed a “huge difference” in terms of infrastructure development, road works and airports just a few years ago. Among the top attractions under development are holiday packages at Al Oula, the Grand Canyon region in the northwest of the kingdom and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, tourism in Saudi Arabia is in its infancy and can be quite expensive for the average traveler.
“In Dubai, I know what I will get, but in Saudi Arabia it seems like you spend a lot more and don’t really get the same services that you get all over the world,” said Masako Welch.
Other countries in the MENA region are also trying to strengthen their tourism sector. According to research conducted by D/A, a Dubai-based consumer research company, the United Arab Emirates remains the most popular destination in this regard, followed by…