Saudi Arabia gets ready for growth in tourist numbers

The Kingdom is laying the groundwork for a massive increase in tourism in the coming years and decades, with red tape slashed and provision for visitors developing fast

Saudi Arabia is gearing up for its tourist industry to expand after new visa rules made it easier for travellers from dozens of countries to visit. Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief of Investment, Strategy and Marketing at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, spoke to ITB Berlin News about the key goals of Saudi Arabia’s opening up to global tourism. 

For the first time, Saudi Arabia has opened to tourists from across the world. Our tourism sector represents significant new opportunities: for businesses and investors, for local communities, and for the world’s tourists. As a major driver of economic growth and social opportunities, our goal is to create sustainable employment for Saudis, boost foreign investment and ultimately, in line with Vision 2030, diversify our economy away from oil. 

Since September 2019, visitors from 49 countries have been able to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival.

Our efforts and partnerships will reflect Saudi Arabia’s work this year when we host the G20 Summit in November. One focus of the Kingdom’s G20 presidency in 2020 will be tourism as a means of sustainable socioeconomic development, while addressing the environmental, social and economic impact of tourism.

Why the big change in policy?
Last year marked an historic milestone for Saudi Arabia as the country opened to international tourists. Since September 2019, visitors from 49 countries have been able to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival. We have since expanded our visa-on-arrival to include anyone with a valid US, UK or Schengen visa as we work to make it easy for the world’s tourists to visit Saudi Arabia.

We are committed to opening up to the world while protecting our natural treasures such as the coral reefs of the Red Sea and our five UNESCO World Heritage sites

It is well known that Saudi Arabia is undertaking major economic and social changes, and opening doors to international tourists is a policy change which demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s increasingly global outlook. In line with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is developing its tourism offering to build bridges between cultures and create productive economic links, develop a significant new sector and increase workforce participation for women and young people. 

As the Chief of Investment, Strategy and Marketing at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, I am proud to say that opening the country to international tourism is one of the most significant Vision 2030 initiatives. 

Will Germany and in broader terms, Europe be an important market for Saudi tourism?  
We predict China, the United States, Germany and United Kingdom will be amongst Saudi Arabia’s top source markets for inbound tourism. As a nation of explorers, which I understand the Germans to be, many will be surprised and delighted by our hospitality, unique culture, diverse landscapes and deep history. We are excited to offer a glimpse into the country’s ancient heritage and deep-rooted culture, breathtaking outdoor activities, local handicrafts and delicious food.

Sustainability is a buzz word we hear a lot, but what is Saudi Arabia actually doing to protect the environment as you develop your tourism sector? 
We have a unique challenge in building a tourism industry from scratch, but it is also a great opportunity to do things right. One of my key focuses when Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 will be the impact of tourism on the environment, economy, and the socio-cultural aspects on global and local communities.

Diriyah, a Unesco World Heritage Site outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia © Visitsaudi

Preservation of our natural sites has been the bedrock of the infrastructure plans – we are committed to opening up to the world while protecting our natural treasures such as the coral reefs of the Red Sea and our five UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In key initiatives, we are advancing responsible and sustainable tourism through specific funding and partnerships. For example, in AlUla, where we’re opening the site to visitors gradually, we’re investing $20m to save the endangered Arabian leopard. In Amaala, a mega project in the northwest coastline, we’re partnering with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to undertake conservation initiatives and marine life research, and at the Red Sea project, all initiatives must ensure bio-diversity preservation. 

Photo: Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief of Investment, Strategy and Marketing, SCTH


SAUDI MAKES TOURISM INVESTMENTS

AlUla archaeological site © The Royal Commission for AlUla

Saudi Arabia is highlighting a series of development projects to enhance the country’s tourism sector. These include:

  • The restoration and preservation of Saudi Arabia’s unique heritage attractions, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Ad Diriyah, the AlUla archaeological site and the Jeddah Historical District.
  • Infrastructure such as hotels and improved transport links close to some of the Kingdom’s natural attractions, which span a range of topographies, from the mountains of Abha to the beaches of the Red Sea to the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
  • New attractions under development include the futuristic city of Neom, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh and luxury destinations beside the Red Sea.

WTTC UNDERPINS PLANS FOR SAUDI TOURISM EXPANSION

Diving on Red Sea reefs in Saudi Arabia – now a big draw card for the Kingdom – © Ryan McMinds

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has partnered with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage to make Saudi Arabia a “top five” inbound destination, with 100 million international and domestic visits, by 2030.  The strategic partnership will harness the power and expertise of WTTC’s global membership, world class events and experience in research and strategic policy work to support Saudi Arabia’s ambitious goals and Vision 2030 plan.  Speaking in Riyadh at the launch of Saudi’s new tourism visa on World Tourism Day last year, Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of WTTC said “I congratulate Saudi Arabia on its decision to open the country to tourists from across the world and look forward to working together to make Saudi Arabia a must visit destination the world over. Today history is being written!”