How Saudi Arabia is transforming into a global tourism destination

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, has been pursuing an ambitious vision to diversify its economy, open its doors to visitors, and raise its profile on the global stage. The kingdom has made remarkable progress in achieving these goals, especially in the tourism sector, which has seen a surge of international arrivals and revenues in recent years. In this article, we will explore some of the key factors and projects that have contributed to Saudi Arabia’s unstoppable ascension as a tourism powerhouse.

One of the main drivers of Saudi Arabia’s tourism transformation is the Vision 2030 initiative, which was announced in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Vision 2030 is a comprehensive plan to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil revenues, create a more diversified and sustainable economy, and improve the quality of life for its citizens. The plan also aims to make Saudi Arabia more attractive and accessible to expats, investors, and tourists, by introducing various reforms and incentives.

Some of the achievements of Vision 2030 in the tourism sector include:

  • The launch of a new Ministry of Tourism, a Saudi Tourism Authority, and a Tourism Development Fund in 2020 to oversee and support the sector’s growth and development.
  • The implementation of visa reforms that allow nationals from more than 59 countries, as well as Schengen visa holders and permanent residents of the UK, US, and any EU country, to obtain e-visas to visit Saudi Arabia.
  • The development of several giga-projects, backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, that aim to create world-class tourism destinations and experiences across the country.
  • The improvement of the kingdom’s ranking in the international tourism indices, such as the World Tourism Organization (WTO) index, where Saudi Arabia climbed from 25th to 13th position in terms of international tourist arrivals, and from 27th to 11th position in terms of international tourism revenues, between 2019 and 2022.

Riyadh: A modern metropolis with a rich heritage

The capital city of Riyadh is one of the prime examples of how Saudi Arabia is transforming into a global tourism destination. The city is teeming with multi-billion-dollar projects that aim to enhance its infrastructure, culture, entertainment, and livability. Some of the most notable projects in Riyadh include:

  • The New Murabba project, which is set to become the world’s largest modern downtown, covering an area of 19 sq km and accommodating several hundred thousand residents. The project will offer over 25 million sqm of floor area, featuring more than 104,000 residential units, 9,000 hotel rooms, and encompassing in excess of 980,000 sqm of retail space. The project is expected to add SAR180 billion to the kingdom’s non-oil GDP and create 334,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030.
  • The Diriyah project, which is a US$63.2 billion masterplan spread across 14 sq km and whose focal point is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif. The project will have 38 hotels, museums, a retail district and more than 100 places to dine, with several restaurants already open within Diriyah’s Bujairi Terrace which is now operational.
  • The Qiddiya project, which is a US$64 billion entertainment city that will span 334 sq km and offer a variety of attractions, such as theme parks, sports venues, cultural events, and nature trails. The project will also host the kingdom’s first Formula One race in 2023, as part of a 10-year deal with the F1 organization.
  • The ROSHN project, which is a national housing program that aims to build more than 400,000 homes by 2030 within the country and develop mixed-use spaces. SEDRA within Riyadh is its first project in the kingdom and will be built across eight phases and offer more than 30,000 homes.

Beyond Riyadh: A diverse and captivating landscape

Saudi Arabia’s tourism potential is not limited to Riyadh, as the kingdom boasts a diverse and captivating landscape that offers something for every type of traveler. From the historical and religious sites of Mecca and Medina, to the cosmopolitan and coastal cities of Jeddah and Dammam, to the ancient and archaeological wonders of Al Ula and Hegra, to the natural and scenic beauty of the Red Sea and the Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia has a wealth of attractions and experiences to explore and enjoy.

Some of the ongoing and upcoming tourism projects beyond Riyadh include:

  • The Red Sea Project, which is a US$10 billion luxury tourism development that will span 28,000 sq km along the western coast of the kingdom and encompass 50 islands, 8,000 hotel rooms, and 1,300 residential units. The project will also be powered by renewable energy and have a zero-carbon footprint.
  • The Amaala Project, which is a US$15 billion wellness and luxury tourism destination that will cover 3,800 sq km in the north-west of the kingdom and feature 2,500 hotel rooms, 700 villas, and 200 retail outlets. The project will also host a range of cultural and artistic events, such as the Winter at Tantora festival and the Saudi Cup horse race.
  • The NEOM Project, which is a US$500 billion futuristic city that will span 26,500 sq km in the north-west of the kingdom and border Egypt and Jordan. The project will be a hub for innovation and technology, as well as a showcase for sustainability and environmental protection. The project will also offer a variety of tourism and entertainment options, such as the NEOM Bay, the NEOM Beach Soccer Cup, and the Dakar Rally.

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