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Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi Arabia is aiming to triple foreign tourism this year as pandemic restrictions ease, hajj pilgrims return and the first elements of the crown prince’s signature projects open, the Crown Prince said on Sunday. AFP its Minister of Tourism.
The reputedly conservative and closed kingdom inaugurated tourist visas in September 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.
An increase in domestic travel in 2020 and 2021 – authorities recorded a record 64 million “domestic visits” last year – helped save Saudi Arabia’s nascent tourism sector from collapse, and now authorities want to further seize the international market, Ahmed Al Khateeb said in an interview.
“Now we are striving to attract more international visitors,” he said, adding that the target for this year was 12 million, up from 4 million in 2021.
“We’re back and we’re very optimistic. Countries have started to open their borders, restrictions have started to ease and people have started to travel,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows with its target of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program aimed at diversifying the oil-dependent economy and opening up in the world.
While the kingdom has in recent years relaxed rules banning cinemas, co-ed concerts and sporting extravaganzas, other regulations, including an alcohol ban, remain in place that could hurt its appeal.
Khateeb clarified on Sunday that of the 100 million visitors targeted for 2030, 30 million are expected to come from abroad while the rest would be people traveling to Saudi Arabia.
Some 30 million visits will be religious trips by residents and foreigners, mostly to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam.
Next month, authorities plan to allow one million pilgrims to perform the hajj, after two years in which the coronavirus pandemic imposed drastic limits on the number of annual rituals.
Another prominent feature of the tourism surge is the so-called giga-projects led by Prince Mohammed, including the futuristic $500 billion megacity known as NEOM and Diriyah, the seat of Saudi Arabia’s first state which is in being redeveloped as a heritage and entertainment destination. .
A restaurant district in Diriyah is expected to open in September, while other elements of these projects will come online “from 2025”, Khateeb said.
“It’s a new level of tourism that doesn’t exist today,” said Khateeb, who sits on NEOM’s board.
“Saudi Arabia is going to change the global tourism landscape…the destinations that Saudi Arabia will offer by 2030 is something completely different,” he added.
© 2022 AFP