Saudi Arabia’s statistics authority will begin tracking the tourist industry’s contribution to its economic output, with the Tourism Establishment Survey providing data that will include the number of employees, pay and revenue, and expenditure. This will help in calculating the sector’s share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and establish growth rates for activities.
Saudi Arabia, a final frontier when it comes to travelling for many potential overseas visitors, is making a determined effort to increase tourism. Of course, Saudi Arabia has a rich collection of both natural and historical attractions, ranging from the mountain destinations of Taif through to a magnificent display of prehistoric Nabatean tombs and the colourful coral reefs in the Red Sea. The kingdom is also home to five UNESCO sites.
The birthplace and spiritual home of Islam, Saudi Arabia is therefore rich in attractions and symbolism, but work is now also underway on a number of large-scale tourism and entertainment projects.
The Saudi Minister of Tourism, His Excellency Ahmad bin Al Khateeb, has recently pointed out that the Red Sea, which attracts millions of European tourists on the opposing Egyptian shoreline, remains mostly untouched on the Saudi side. Also, the kingdom being the birthplace of Islam and the cradle of Arab civilisation would be attractive to overseas visitors looking for history they’ve yet to encounter.
Welcoming the World
New giga tourism projects will occupy an area in excess of 64,634 sq km over the next decade, while recently Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund announced it had formed a company called Cruise Saudi to develop a local cruise industry.
The giga-projects in question include:
A $500 billion high-tech city, NEOM is the flagship project of the kingdom’s post-oil diversification programme and, located in north-western Saudi Arabia, will be the main entrance to the King Salman Bridge, linking Asia and Africa. Its landmass (26,500 sq km), 35 times the size of Singapore, will extend along the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering it the first private zone to span three countries, and contain over 450 km of coastline.
Red Sea Project
The Red Sea Project is an ultra-luxury tourist destination, designed with a strong focus on heritage, culture and conservation, and will provide 8,000 new hotel rooms once completed.
The project will feature luxury resorts across an area of 34,000 sq km and will be spread across an archipelago of 50 islands. In particular, the Red Sea Project will mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, waste production, and light and noise pollution, maintaining the destination at a level equivalent to a Marine Protected Area.
Set to become the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’, Amaala will sit alongside NEOM and the Red Sea Project within the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Natural Reserve, helping establish a unique tourism ecosystem. The development will add 2,500 hotel rooms to the kingdom’s growing hospitality market and feature 700 private residential villas and a retail area with 200 outlets. The 3,000 square kilometre project, which will be spread across the three sites, will have its own airport and target the top tier of global luxury travellers.
Qiddiya, set to be Saudi Arabian’s pre-eminent entertainment, sports and cultural destination, about an hour’s drive from Riyadh, is being built on a 334 sq km site, making it two and a half times the size of the Disney World in Paris. Targeting local, regional, and international tourists, Qiddiya will include a Six Flags theme park, water parks, motorsports, cultural events, and vacation homes.
Ad Diriyah – Diriyah Gate
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ad Diriyah is a north-western suburb of the capital Riyadh and used to be home to the Saudi royal family. Known as the ‘Pearl of Saudi Arabia’, it is set to become a major tourist destination, encompasses several luxury resorts, including major international hotel brands, and dining and entertainment options.
An ancient city, in Saudi Arabia’s north-western Medina region, Al Ula was once an important crossroads on the vast incense trade route which spanned from the Mediterranean to India and northern Africa. The city and surrounding area ares now looking to attract millions of visitors a year to its ancient monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, where the remains of a settlement built more than 2,000 years ago by the Nabataean kingdom can be seen remarkably well preserved.
An Archaeological Treasure Chest
As it opens to tourists as part of Vision 2030, which looks to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, Saudi Arabia hopes to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million, contributing up to 10% of its GDP.
Most of all, Saudi Arabia wants to catch the attention of people from China, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, the US, and Europe who are especially interested in culture and history. This is because the country has remained fundamentally untouched and is therefore considered an archaeological treasure chest.
Overnight, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to Western tourism. The government believes this is an opportunity that was “previously missed” and will result in a tremendous economic boost for the country.
So whether it’s camping on 980-feet cliffs, snorkelling along a pristine coral reef in the Red Sea, or enjoying the last word in luxury in the kingdom’s new hotels and resorts, Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer tourists who are looking for something authentic and just a little bit different.