Saudi Arabia, from oil to tourism


In terms of tourism, Saudi Arabia is a high-spending tourist-sending country, but it has become aware of the need to develop its own tourism industry and transform itself into a destination. The Kingdom wants to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons by boosting and diversifying a post-oil economy that will create jobs.

The goal is to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030. With its tourism development programmes, Saudi Arabia will be the world's largest investor in the sector, with planned investments of $810 billion in culture, leisure and entertainment projects over the next decade. New attractions include Neom, the great sustainable city on the Gulf of Aqaba; Qiddiyah, Riyadh's training city; the Al-Ahsa oasis; and the Red Sea resort islands.

The machinery has been set in motion. The destination has hired Messi as its new tourism ambassador and numerous events such as the Italian Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, the Red Sea International Film Festival and the Formula 1 Grand Prix are being held.

The country is a major religious destination, with the pilgrimage to Mecca, but with social constraints, a strict alcohol policy, restrictions on women and allegations of human rights abuses. Now, with the new calendar of events and other actions, Saudi Arabia is making significant moves to open its borders to international tourists.

In 2021, Saudi Arabia took advantage of the border closures imposed by COVID to promote its domestic tourism, which reached a record 62 million visits and 15 million visits to the Red Sea from the region. In terms of recovery, they reached 72% of pre-pandemic levels, and the last quarter reached 130% of pre-pandemic levels.

The pandemic forced public and private entities to work together to save lives at a time when it was needed most. Applications were created, improvements were made to existing services, and an integrated value chain was developed from testing and quarantine to arrival and hotel check-in. The Saudi government wants to leverage these synergies to inspire better collaboration with the private sector and help create a seamless experience for travellers.

It all fits into Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's strategic reform blueprint 'Saudi Vision 2030'. The success of the Transformation Plan will depend on political and social developments in the coming years, but the economic data to boost the tourism sector is very clear.

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