COVID-19 likely to limit Saudi Arabia’s tourism expansion plan

Published on : Friday, November 6, 2020

According to latest reports, Saudi Arabia has the potential to become a regional tourism powerhouse but the country is unlikely to reach its optimistic annual visitor goals due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global travel.

Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief Executive, Saudi Tourism Authority recently stated that the country is on track and the Middle Eastern destination is seeking to welcome 100 million guests annually by 2030. However, Globaldata argued that this would also mean a near six-fold increase in tourist arrivals over the next 11 years, as compared to the 17 million visitors the country welcomed in 2019.

The data and analytics company also forecasted that Saudi Arabia’s international arrivals will reach 21 million by 2024 and an increase on this scale the massive impact that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had on global travel and tourism appears to be difficult.

However, Ben Cordwell, Tourism Analyst, GlobalData explained that this would stop Saudi Arabia from becoming a dominant force in the Middle East destination market. He stated that the Red Sea Project is looking to establish Saudi Arabia as a luxury tourist destination which could attract many of the tourists that travel to Dubai each year, particularly high-spending travellers from the U.K. and China.

Religious attractions and celebrations is already the main source of tourism in the country with millions of international visitors arriving to take part in the Hajj and Umrah. A more accessible Saudi Arabia could attract a greater number of Muslim visitors to these events each year. Sports tourism is another area that Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in, recently hosting Anthony Joshua’s world title fight against Andy Ruiz. Hosting major sporting events will also provide the country the major opportunity to market itself as a prime tourist destination.

Cordell also mentioned that Riyadh, the capital has the potential to establish itself as a premium luxury destination to rival Dubai. He further shared that the country is also home to historical sites dating back thousands of years, and hence it can become a hub for cultural tourism to the Middle East thereby diversifying the type of tourist that the country attracts. He added that Saudi Arabia offers much that can attract a high number of international visitors each year, alongside a number of initiatives that can help achieve its ambitious tourist targets to 2030, depending on the impact of COVID-19 on international arrivals over the coming years.

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