With a goal of attracting 100 million tourists a year by 2030, Saudi Arabia realizes that it will have to market itself aggressively as a leisure destination. A trillion dollars seems pretty aggressive.
Peden Doma Butia
In addition to the investment it has already made in the last five years, Saudi Arabia plans to invest another trillion dollars in the tourism sector over the next 10 years.
“Today, Saudi Arabia is the largest investment destination in the tourism sector,” said Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Having got the ball rolling, the destination has hired Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi as its new tourism ambassador, even as American golfer Jack Nicklaus says he turned down $100 million to be the face of the backed LIV Golf Series. by Saudi Arabia, according to reports on Monday.
Of course, the country historically struggled to win over domestic and international tourists due to social constraints, including a strict no-drinking policy and severe restrictions on women, as well as allegations of human rights abuses against journalists.
But the once popular religious destination is now turning to leisure tourism with a calendar of events that would once have seemed unimaginable in the country. And then there is the goal of attracting 100 million tourists a year by 2030.
Describing its tourism aspirations to align with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia identifies tourism as one of the “promising sectors” to help diversify its largely oil-based economy.
A 2019 Skift report also identified that Saudi Arabia has been making significant moves to open its borders to international tourists.
Riyadh Season 2021, an entertainment event that lasted for five months from October 2021 onwards, was one such entertainment event to attract leisure tourists.
The opening ceremony, which featured a performance by American rapper Pitbull, was attended by more than 750,000 people, while it was broadcast live on television channels and websites.
“We had an active lifestyle offer with Riyadh Season 2021, which had festivities and events from music to culture and lifestyle.”
The country is set to welcome a Nobu Hotel and a St Regis in Riyadh with another Four Seasons in Diriyah, the original home of the Saudi royal family.
The Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah was buzzing with activity in December last year as it hosted the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival as well as the Formula One Grand Prix.
The country has also hosted a growing number of international sporting events, including the Italian Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.
Using Covid Downtime for Promotion
At a time when very few destinations were promoting tourism as a result of sealed borders, Saudi Arabia took advantage of the Covid downtime to promote tourism in the country.
The bet paid off as 2021 was an extraordinary year for the destination with domestic tourism reaching a record 62 million visits. “We had 15 million visits to the Red Sea from the region,” Hamidaddin said while speaking with Skift at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“In terms of full recovery, we reached 72% of pre-pandemic levels in 2021. The last quarter of 2021-2022 has been extremely rewarding as we reached 130% of pre-pandemic levels. Today, Saudi Arabia is the largest investment destination in the tourism sector,” said Hamidaddin.
In its quest to become a rewarding destination for travellers, Saudi tourism also wants governments and businesses to work together.
Crediting the Covid environment for inspiring a new wave of collaboration between governments and the private sector, the CEO of Saudi Tourism said that at a time when it was needed most, public and private entities came together to improve services. existing ones and develop new ones.
“We never thought this would fit together until public and private entities were forced to work together and created an integrated value chain of tests, apps, quarantine on arrival and hotel check-ins,” Hamidaddin said.
While this synergy helped save lives during the pandemic, Hamidaddin said it should now be further developed to help create a seamless experience for travelers.
However, Saudi Arabia is aware of the fact that, coming out of the pandemic, destinations must ensure that the environment continues to heal.
“We never had overtourism because we were still a new destination, and we will make sure that everything we build is designed with that in mind,” he said, noting that Saudi Arabia has earmarked 30 percent of the total land for protected areas as part of Vision 2030.
Regional Tourism Plot
With cities around the world actively working to promote themselves, destination branding is indeed a very competitive landscape globally. However, Saudi Arabia seeks to compete with destinations on a regional level while seeking to promote tourism within the region.
“Long-distance travelers don’t just intend to visit one country. A traveler to Petra in Jordan can extend their trip to Al Ula in Saudi Arabia and beyond. We are looking to collaborate on multiple levels with other countries in the region, and tourism promotion is definitely one of them,” Hamidaddin said.
However, with destinations in the Middle East buoyant about tourism, Saudi Arabia will be tasked with capturing its share of the market.