Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — In 2023, Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in transforming itself into a premier global tourism destination, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Barometer reporting it as the world’s second fastest-growing tourist destination.
This impressive achievement reflects the Kingdom’s ambitious efforts to diversify its economy and enhance its appeal to international visitors.
Record-Breaking Growth in Tourism
According to the UNWTO report, Saudi Arabia achieved a staggering 150% recovery rate in its tourism sector compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, outpacing the global recovery rate of 87% and leading the Middle East with a 120% recovery.
This rapid growth is attributed to the Kingdom’s proactive strategies to increase tourist numbers, especially following the launch of several new tourist destinations.
Introduction of ‘KSA Visa’ Platform
A key development in 2023 was the launch of the ‘KSA Visa,’ a unified visa platform designed to streamline the visa application process. This innovative system aims to attract a greater number of tourists in the coming years, making it easier for visitors from around the world to explore the Kingdom.
The efficiency of the digital visa system, which reduces the processing time to just 60 seconds, reflects the Kingdom’s commitment to leveraging technology to enhance the visitor experience.
Expanding Visa Accessibility
Saudi Arabia’s expansion of e-visa accessibility to 63 countries marks a significant move in making the Kingdom more accessible to international tourists.
Since the introduction of the visit visa in September 2019 for tourism, Umrah outside the Hajj season, and attendance at events and exhibitions, the Kingdom has seen a surge in tourist numbers, driving unprecedented growth in the sector.
The e-visa is also available to GCC residents, US, UK, and EU citizens, as well as holders of US, UK, and Schengen visas, further broadening its reach.
Robust Growth in Tourism Numbers
The Kingdom’s tourism strategy has yielded impressive results, with more than 18.6 million visas issued in 2023.
In line with the targets of the 2024 general budget, Saudi Arabia aims to increase tourism spending to SR289 billion, achieve 88 million visitors, and create more job opportunities in the tourism sector.
These targets underscore the Kingdom’s ambition to become a leading player in the global tourism industry.
Record-Breaking Inbound Tourism
The first half of 2023 witnessed a historic surge in inbound tourism, with a 142% increase in the number of visitors compared to the previous year.
This growth was accompanied by a substantial 132% rise in inbound tourism spending, contributing SR86.9 billion to the economy and setting a new record in the sector.
Investment in Hospitality Infrastructure
The Kingdom’s hospitality sector is set to expand significantly, with the current 400,000 hotel rooms expected to grow to 854,000 by 2030.
This expansion is crucial in accommodating the increasing number of tourists and providing them with diverse lodging options.
Enhancing Saudi Arabia’s Global Tourism Appeal
The Kingdom’s remarkable growth in the tourism sector is not just a testament to its rich cultural and historical heritage but also to its ambitious development projects.
The launch of new tourist destinations is a strategic move to showcase Saudi Arabia’s diverse attractions, ranging from its sprawling deserts and ancient archaeological sites to modern urban wonders.
Investing in World-Class Infrastructure
The strategic development of infrastructure is key to Saudi Arabia’s tourism growth. The expansion of hotel capacity and the development of new tourist destinations are geared towards accommodating the anticipated influx of tourists.
The Kingdom’s investment in infrastructure, including the expansion of airports and the development of new resorts and cultural attractions, is aimed at providing visitors with world-class facilities and experiences.
Cultivating a Diverse Tourism Experience
Saudi Arabia is keen on offering a diverse range of tourism experiences, catering to various interests and preferences.
From adventure and eco-tourism in its vast deserts and mountain ranges to religious tourism in Makkah and Madinah, and leisure tourism in its Red Sea coast, the Kingdom is positioning itself as a destination with something for everyone.
Fostering Cultural Exchange and Dialogue
By hosting tourists from around the world, Saudi Arabia aims to foster cultural exchange and dialogue.
The Kingdom’s rich cultural heritage and traditions are showcased through various festivals, events, and exhibitions, inviting visitors to experience and understand the Saudi way of life and its values.
Towards a Sustainable Tourism Model
In line with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is committed to developing a sustainable tourism model that balances economic growth with environmental conservation and cultural preservation.
This approach is essential in ensuring that the Kingdom’s natural and cultural treasures are protected and enjoyed by future generations.
As Saudi Arabia continues to break new ground in its tourism sector, it is clear that the Kingdom is not just opening its doors wider to the world but is also crafting a unique and diverse narrative in the global tourism landscape.
The success in hosting Expo 2030 and the continued development of its tourism infrastructure are steps towards realizing its vision of becoming a leading global destination, contributing to a brighter and more prosperous future for the Kingdom and its visitors.