Open For Tourism: Saudi Arabia doubles down on Leisure

Cultural Tourism

2018 is expected to be a banner year for Saudi Arabia’s hotel, travel, and tourism sectors. Thanks to recent reforms and direct investments, Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is expected to continue to grow 13.5% per year to 2022, according to a new report commissioned by Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

While the country has been consistently popular for religious tourism, Saudi Arabia is now working to grow the country’s leisure tourism. In 2017, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) added $2.7 billion into entertainment ventures and the National Transformation Program (NTP) has invested $45.6 billion in tourism development.

In addition to funding, the drive in reforms to travel regulations that support the tourism industry include the recent modification of visa regulations. Saudi Arabia will start issuing visas to tourists on 1 April 2018 alongside those for business travelers, pilgrims and people visiting family. This will make it easier for international tourists to visit attractions that are currently under development, such as a Six Flags theme park in Riyadh or the Red Sea luxury beach resorts, both expected around 2021.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia is aiming to welcome 30 million tourists a year.

Within the next five years, air travel at King Khalid International Airport Riyadh and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah are projected to increase by 8% and 6% respectively. These higher visitor arrivals will support jobs, investment opportunities and economic diversification, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan.

As Saudi Arabia attracts more and more outside investors into a diverse economy, this will lead to even more tourism translating into more job opportunities for Saudi’s young population. Once completed, the Red Sea Project alone is expected to create 35,000 jobs and add $4 billion to Saudi Arabia’s economy per year.

Considered by industry professionals as a barometer for the Middle East and North Africa tourism sector, ATM’s yearly event saw a 14% year-on-year increase by visitors from Saudi in 2017. Last year 39,000 guests attended and signed business deals worth more than $2.5 billion over four days.  2018 will see ATM mark its 25th year while focusing on its theme of “Responsible Tourism,” with Saudi poised to have an even bigger footprint at the conference and in the industry.