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Affluent tourists around the globe on Saudi Arabia’s radar

Tourists visit the tombs of the Nabatean civilisation in AlUla. Saudi Arabia's goal is for tourism to make up 10 percent of GDP by 2030 AsiaDreamPhoto/Alamy via Reuters
Tourists visit the tombs of the Nabatean civilisation in AlUla. Saudi Arabia's goal is for tourism to make up 10 percent of GDP by 2030
  • Focus on China, India and Europe
  • $800bn investment over seven years
  • Infrastructure to match 2030 goals

Saudi Arabia will invest more than $800 billion in its main giga-projects by the next decade as part of a tourism expansion strategy focused on affluent tourists in China, India and Europe. 

The kingdom’s tourism minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, speaking at the Qatar Investment Forum, said: “We’re building and investing in major destinations like Neom, Red Sea, Qiddiya and Diriyah, with an announced investment of more than $800 billion in the next seven years.”

Saudi Arabia is also expanding infrastructure, including a new Riyadh airport for its airline Riyadh Air, due to open in 2030, further easing visa access and increasing direct flights from the world’s major cities, Al-Khateeb said. 

“We want to focus on countries where the GDP per capita is higher than others and that are within six hours flight in a strategic geographic location,” he said. 

“China is a target, Europe is a target, the emerging middle class in India is a target for all of us. We have plans to attract these target markets for various reasons, to visit family and friends, perform religious duties or enjoy sports and leisure activities.” 

As part of its Vision 2030 transformation plan to diversify away from reliance on oil revenue Saudi Arabia wants to increase tourism’s share of GDP from 4.5 percent at present to 10 percent by 2030. Last year there were 27 million international visitors, almost half coming for religious reasons

Saad bin Ali Al Kharji, chairman of Qatar Tourism, said Gulf countries were also stepping up efforts to attract tourists to Gulf-wide trips taking in different countries. 

Gulf Cooperation Council states – which also include Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE – agreed last year to introduce a unified GCC tourist visa as the region targets $188 billion from the industry by the end of the decade. 

“We are promoting Qatar and Saudi in one campaign,” Al Kharj said, noting that the forum was promoting the Saudi destination of AlUla, site of the pre-Islamic Nabataean civilisation. 

“People can have a double experience in one region. This is taking us to the benefits of collaboration. At the end of this year we might see the unified GCC visa.” 

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