Tourism Saudi $400m fund to drive Habitas hotel expansion By Pramod Kumar June 18, 2023 Habitas AlUla Habitas AlUla is 60 percent full in the summer, with about 80 percent occupancy driven by locals Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has launched a SAR1.5 billion ($400 million) fund to open new properties with London-based hospitality management group Habitas across the kingdom. The sustainable luxury hotel chain plans to open as many as six new properties, in addition to two existing ones in the kingdom, Bloomberg reported. Sites include the Red Sea coast and the capital Riyadh. “What’s amazing about the kingdom is just how diverse the geography is,” CEO Oliver Ripley said, adding that the investment in infrastructure has opened up much more of the country to potential visitors. “A lot of these locations were difficult to access, or access was until recently restricted for religious reasons,” the British entrepreneur said. Launched in 2016, Habitas operates hotels in Mexico, Namibia and Saudi Arabia. Habitas AlUla started in November 2021, following the signing of a new partnership between Habitas and The Royal Commission for AlUla. Ripley said Habitas AlUla is 60 percent full in the summer, with about 80 percent occupancy driven by locals. The TDA, set up in June 2020 with $4 billion capital, seeks to promote local and international investments in tourism across key destinations in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is pursuing an ambitious tourism growth strategy, opening its doors to the world for the first time in 2018. Under its Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, the kingdom aims to attract 100 million visitors yearly and grow tourism’s GDP contribution to 10 percent from 6 percent. The kingdom recently launched a new instant e-visa to facilitate UK, US and Schengen visa holders and permanent residents of the UK, US and any EU country to obtain tourist e-visas through the ministry of foreign affairs. Saudi Arabia earlier this year announced the launch of a new stopover visa, allowing visitors to stay in the country for up to 96 hours. International flight bookings to the kingdom this summer are up 8 percent compared with the same time in 2019. As of May 23, flight bookings to Saudi Arabia in June, July and August were mainly driven by arrivals from Egypt. They were up 204 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to data compiled for AGBI by travel trends and analytics company ForwardKeys. Bookings from the UK were up 113 percent over the same review period. Arrivals from the US were up 58 percent.