RIYADH: In the latest episode of Frankly Speaking, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb spoke to Arab News’ Frank Kane about the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to become one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Al-Khateeb quashed claims that the Kingdom’s target of obtaining 100 million visits by 2030 are “overambitious.” He also invited investors to join the country’s bid in injecting $200 billion by 2030 to help build what he described as a “virgin sector” where first movers will benefit tremendously.
“We opened our doors and hearts to international tourists to come and explore Saudi Arabia and experience Saudi Arabia, and experience our culture, our nature, our pristine and great beaches of the Red Sea or the East Coast and our major cities. Therefore, you know we believe we can get a big share of the 1.4 billion tourists who traveled back in 2019,” he said.
“Our target is indeed ambitious. However, we have everything we need to achieve our target.”
When asked whether alcohol would be permitted in the region given its popularity among tourists, Al-Khateeb said that extensive research showed that “40 to 50 percent of travelers would travel to destinations that do not offer alcohol.”
He added: “We have a lot to offer other than alcohol. There is a lot to improve, be it in hospitality, culture, food and luxury, and therefore we will be competing on other things that tourists are traveling for,” the minister said.
“I believe you know our destinations at mainly the Red Sea will be positioned among the best destinations globally by 2030 and people will definitely experience them, even if we don’t offer alcohol.”
Regarding women’s swimsuits, Al-Khateeb said that private beaches do allow women to wear swimsuits freely, while public ones will maintain a dress code “similar to that of other countries”.
Al-Khateeb added that there are lucrative investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry, especially for those who get ahead of the rest.
“This is a virgin sector. We just opened the sector and the first-mover advantage is going to be huge.
“We need to inject about $70 billion until 2023 and more than $200 billion by 2030 to fill the gap in the offering, whether in retail, hospitality or in recreation. Therefore we have been sharing our story with the world,” he said.
During the interview, Al-Khateeb was asked how the kingdom intends to respond to criticisms and calls for boycott in some international media outlets. He responded by inviting tourists to travel to the Kingdom and experience Saudi Arabia, to witness the changes that have taken place as part of Vision 2030.
“I believe the best thing to do is to come and experience how people live here and see how the 9 million expats living in Saudi Arabia enjoy it with their families,” he said.
Watch below: Frankly Speaking Extra with Mahmoud Abdulhadi, senior advisor on investment attraction at the Ministry of Tourism, and Sarah Al-Husseini, the ministry's general director of international cooperation: