Saudi Arabia pavilion at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Saudi Arabia aims to triple foreign tourism this year as pandemic restrictions ease, Hajj pilgrims return and the first elements of the crown prince’s signature projects open, its tourism minister told AFP on Sunday.
The kingdom inaugurated tourist visas in September 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.
An uptick in domestic travel in 2020 and 2021 — authorities tallied a record 64 million “domestic visits” last year — helped save the nascent Saudi tourism sector from collapse, and now authorities want to seize more of the international market, Ahmed Al Khateeb said in an interview.
“Now we are pushing and moving to attract more… international visitors,” he said, specifying the goal for this year was 12 million, up from 4 million in 2021.
“We are back and we are very optimistic. Countries started to open their borders, restrictions started to ease down and people started to travel,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows with its goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, an element of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy and open up to the world.
Khateeb specified on Sunday that of the 100 million targeted visitors for 2030, 30 million are meant to come from abroad while the rest would be people travelling within Saudi Arabia.
Some 30 million visits will be religious trips by both residents and foreigners, largely to Makkah and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites.
Next month authorities plan to allow one million pilgrims to perform the hajj, after two years in which the coronavirus pandemic forced drastic limits on numbers for the annual ritual.
Another high-profile feature of the tourism push is so-called giga-projects spearheaded by Prince Mohammed, including the $500 billion futuristic megacity known as NEOM and Diriyah, the seat of the first Saudi state which is being redeveloped as a heritage and entertainment destination.
A restaurant district in Diriyah is set to open in September, while other elements of such projects will come online “from 2025 onwards”, Khateeb said.
“This is a new level of tourism which does not exist today,” said Khateeb who sits on the board of NEOM.
“Saudi Arabia will change the tourism landscape globally… the destinations that Saudi will offer by 2030, it’s something completely different,” he added.
Deals at ATM: The pavilion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has concluded its participation in the Arabian Travel Market 2022 (ATM), held in Dubai recently.
Under the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), 29 partners succeeded in highlighting the treasures of Saudi tourism, and its diversity, depth and tremendous opportunities, in addition to the success in re-communicating and confirming the commitment with the tourism industry and major international companies, by holding more than 4,000 meetings and concluding more than 90 partnership agreements and Memoranda of Understanding.
Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and board member of the STA, as saying that the Kingdom enjoys the confidence of the tourism industry and major international companies, which translates the volume and quality of agreements and memoranda of understanding that were concluded in Dubai ATM 2022.
The Saudi pavilion also announced a number of new programmes, agreements and partnerships for 2022.
Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAUDIA) also showcased a new three-level stand design with a range of innovative features and products at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM), at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
The stand provided visitors with an immersive experience of the airline with a tour of the products, services and technologies onboard. It has six interactive areas which feature the airline’s global network, its modern fleet, its premium Alfursan lounge, onboard amenities, the new in-flight entertainment (IFE) system ‘Beyond’ and SAUDIA holidays.
Hosted by the SAUDIA Alfursan lounge hospitality team, the futuristic design utilises a state-of-the-art digital display which can be seen from both inside and outside. At the same time, the latest SAUDIA Economy and Business Class seats were showcased.
Captain Ibrahim Koshy, Chief Executive Officer, SAUDIA, said, “Our stand offer travel industry visitors a chance to experience the airline’s signature products. Excitingly, we revealed the all-new IFE System Beyond and SAUDIA Business, a new B2B travel solution for Corporate, Agency and MICE clients.”