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‘Domestic tourism set to boom’

Saudi Arabia's tourism industry is set to boom in the next two years with the completion of multibillion-riyal hotel projects, new local facility developments and the creation of thousands of jobs for citizens.
This is the view of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).
He spoke to Arab News exclusively after recently receiving the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference Leadership Award in Dubai, in the presence of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and chief executive officer of Emirates Airline.
Prince Sultan said there is currently tremendous growth in hotel developments, particularly from first-time international investors. This is because the Kingdom has a strong and stable economy based on the government adopting a long-term and "balanced" fiscal outlook.
“This year witnessed a real go for the SCTA following several decisions. The most significant for the tourism sector was the approval of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Cultural Heritage project, and support for the commission administratively and financially,” he said.
Prince Sultan said the SCTA's main aim is to develop the domestic tourism sector because this is a major part of the market.
The SCTA was also providing for overseas visitors. “The Kingdom is never closed. Millions of pilgrims visit every year, and now the commission has started a post-Umrah tourism program that allows pilgrims to tour the Kingdom in collaboration with the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Haj."
He said that this is in addition to providing services for those who attend conferences, various exhibitions, and who arrive to work in the country.
He said the Kingdom plans to develop a wider variety of attractions including resorts, different classes of hotels, furnished apartments, ecohotels, and desert camps in various provinces. This includes Al-Ula, Hail, Al-Thumamah, Al-Qaseem, Al-Dariah, Al-Laith and Asir.
A project under way is the SR17-billion Al-Aqeer development, which will provide 1,364 hotel rooms at a cost of SR900 million. Other projects include the Souq Okaz development in Taif, Red Sea coastal projects, and the Al-Hada center development.
Prince Sultan said the SCTA has faced many challenges in its attempt to turn the sector around. “The journey was not easy, and it did not start with the supervision of the hospitality sector in 2009. It was preceded by the Ministry of Commerce giving the commission a full development program in 2007.”
The SCTA's restructuring of the hotel sector, which has attracted foreign players, included new licensing procedures, reclassifying about 4,000 hotels and furnished apartments in terms of quality, and then setting and enforcing price controls, said Prince Sultan.
These changes were introduced to meet the needs of investors, and provide customers with quality services at affordable prices.
A new financing program introduced by the SCTA would also help grow the sector, which has seen significant development over the past decade, he said.
In March 2014, there were 3,710 facilities, including 1,222 hotels, 2,488 furnished apartments, and 29,950 hotel rooms. More than 77 percent of the hotel investments were in Makkah and Madinah.
Prince Sultan said there would be massive growth in hotel projects over the next two years. High-quality hotel developments costing SR143.9 billion would be completed by 2020, he said.
A key objective is to provide jobs for citizens in the hospitality industry. There were 203,000 Saudi workers in direct and 126,000 in indirect tourism jobs at the end of 2013. This is expected to grow to 1 million and 773,000 respectively by 2020, he said.