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Saudi Arabia among biggest gainers in tourism rebound 

Nujuma, A Ritz Carlton Reserve at Red Sea Global Red Sea Global
The Nujuma Ritz Carlton Reserve at the Red Sea resort. Red Sea is just one of Saudi Arabia's new destinations aiming to draw in tourists
  • Global tourism at 84% of pre-pandemic levels
  • Saudi tourism 20% higher than before
  • $5bn tourism revenue in Q2 2023

The Middle East is the best-performing global tourism region as the world undergoes a tourism rebound after the Covid-19 pandemic, and Saudi Arabia the second best-performing country, according to the UN’s tourism body.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization said tourism in terms of traveller numbers had rebounded globally to 84 percent of levels before the pandemic, but Middle East arrivals exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 20 percent in the first seven months of 2023. 

“Travel demand continued to show remarkable resilience and sustained recovery, amid economic and geopolitical challenges,” the UN body said. 

The official Saudi Press Agency said the number of visitors to Saudi Arabia was up 58 percent compared with the same period in 2019, when the government first opened up its e-visa system. 

The government has cited tourist arrivals of nearly 15 million annually, including religious visitors to Mecca and Medina.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last month he hopes for 100 million annual visitors by 2030. 

The rebound means Saudi Arabia’s tourism revenues have grown steadily since January 2022, rising from less than $1 billion in the first quarter of 2022 to more than $5 billion in the second quarter of 2023, according to Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment. 

The government sees tourism as a growth sector in its plans to develop a non-oil economy by 2030. Tourism forms a key element of giga projects including tech city Neom, the Red Sea Project and the Amaala luxury tourist resort.

Neom will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games, in nearby mountains where snow falls in winter, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s diverse climate and attraction as a tourist destination.