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Saudi domestic tourism drive takes off at Dubai’s expense

PIF investment tourism Unsplash/Khawaja Umer Farooq
The Saudi Tourism Investment Company (Asfar) will offer the private sector opportunities to co-invest in tourism projects throughout Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100m visitors a year by 2030
  • Visitors to Dubai from the kingdom dropped 9% in Q1
  • Decline offset by visitors to Dubai from other nations, notably Russia

Saudi visitor numbers to Dubai are expected to remain high, despite falling considerably from pre-pandemic levels as residents from the kingdom feel the pull of domestic tourism.

The 289,000 travellers from Saudi Arabia made it the fourth-largest source market for travellers to Dubai in the first quarter of this year, but this total was still was down 9 percent year on year and a 30 percent decline on Q1 2019 numbers.

Ali Manzoor, head of hotels and tourism at consultancy firm CBRE Middle East, said: “Declining visitation from the kingdom could well continue given the various government initiatives spearheaded by the Saudi government, the hosting of key global events and the adjustment of the school holiday system.”

Under its Vision 2030 programme, Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million visitors annually by the start of the next decade, with 70 percent of its tourism demand to come from domestic travel.

The kingdom has signalled its intent and is planning to launch 315,000 new hotel rooms by 2030 in an effort to boost domestic tourism, according to Knight Frank Middle East.

This would take the total number of hotel rooms in Saudi to 450,000.

Muzammil Ahussain, CEO of travel company Almosafer, which is part of Seera Group, said 56 percent of the company’s bookings for the first four months of this year was for domestic travel.

“When Covid hit, obviously borders closed in Saudi, but travel didn’t stop,” he said. “Domestic travel was fairly open early on in the crisis and it has continued to grow from there.”

Further data from Knight Frank Middle East revealed that 65 percent of Saudi nationals travel domestically between one to three times a month for reasons such as short business trips (16 percent), entertainment/seasonal attractions (12 percent) and religious purposes (16 percent).

However, the latest data from Wego, the largest online travel marketplace in the Mena region, suggests travel between Saudi and the UAE is on the road to recovery.

Wego’s Mamoun Hmedan revealed flight searches from the kingdom to the UAE had recorded a 14 percent increase in May compared with the previous month.

Overall, Dubai welcomed 4.67 million overnight visitors in the first quarter of the year. The largest number of international guests – 612,000 – came from India.

Continued Covid restrictions in China led visitor numbers from the country to fall by 68 percent on 2019, while visitors from Oman fell by 40 percent.

Travellers from Russia were up 89 percent.

Manzoor said: “For now, this decline in visitation to Dubai from the kingdom has been more than offset by demand growth in various other source markets – most notably from Russia –  so the overall situation in Dubai is positive.”