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Saudi Arabia tourist numbers more than double

In the mountains of Jabal Al-Qarah in northeast Saudi Arabia is a network of ancient caves and winding passageways that authorities hope will attract tourists. Reuters
The caves in the mountains of Jabal Al-Qarah in northeast Saudi Arabia are one of the attractions bringing increasing numbers of tourists to the kingdom
  • Kingdom ‘fastest growing market in world’
  • 45% of visits for religious purposes
  • Target is 150m by 2030

Saudi Arabia had 14.6 million tourists during the first six months of 2023, more than twice the amount in the previous year, and their spending more than doubled to SAR87 billion ($23.2 billion), the ministry of tourism said this week. 

Tourism has become an important part of Saudi Arabia’s economic reform plans to diversify away from oil revenues, attract foreign investment and create jobs for its burgeoning youth population.

The government wants tourism to account for 10 percent of GDP by 2030, up from around 3 percent in 2019, when e-visas were introduced. 

The half-year report issued by the government said most visiting tourists, which include pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, were from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan and Indonesia. While 45 percent of visits were for religious purposes, 20 percent were for leisure, more than triple the number for the same period in 2022. 

“These figures represent the highest half-year performance historically for inbound tourists and tourism spend. Leisure purpose achieved the highest growth in the number of tourists among all purposes,” the report said. It said inbound tourism rose 142 percent. 

The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization says Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing market in the world, with arrivals jumping from 3.48 million in 2021 to 16.64 million in 2022. This means the kingdom is likely to see around double that number during 2023. 

Tourism minister Ahmed Al Khateeb says the government was focusing on developing Riyadh, which is to host the World Expo in 2030.

Riyadh-based projects include a new airport, a new airline, the Diriyah historical district, the Qiddiya sports and education district, the downtown Murabba area and King Salman Park. 

“Why are we putting all these investments in Riyadh? Because we believe that people who travel to any country tend to sit in one city,” the minister said at a new golf course in Diriyah last week. Al Khateeb said that 80 percent of visitors to France stay in Paris.  

“We expect that out of the 150 million, our revised target, who will visit the kingdom by 2030, 50 or 60 percent of them will stay in Riyadh,” he said. 

The tourism ministry also said the number of Saudis and residents travelling abroad rose 37 percent to 9.9 million people during the first half of the year, mainly for tourism and family reasons. 

Domestic tourism slipped by 2 percent in terms of number of trips but spending rose by 16 percent to SAR63 billion. 

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