It has been a busy couple of years for tourism in Saudi.
Just over two years ago, in September 2019, Saudi Arabia announced the launch of the new tourism visa, opening its doors and hearts to the world for the very first time.
Since this milestone, the tourism sector in Saudi has developed with breathtaking speed. In 2020, the award-winning Break Free Summer campaign welcomed millions of domestic tourists to 11 special destinations within the constraints of the pandemic. Later that year, Saudi’s first luxury cruise ship sailed along the Red Sea coastline. In less than 12 months, to meet the high demand, two international companies ran luxury cruises from Saudi to Jordan and Egypt.
The success of the first domestic campaign was a clear demonstration of the strength and resilience of the country. Over the following year, two other campaigns were launched – the Arabian Winter campaign, which attracted visitors to 17 tourism and leisure destinations around the country, and the Saudi Summer Vibes, which ran from June 2021.
On Aug. 1, 2021, after a pause to control the pandemic, Saudi Arabia resumed issuing tourist visas for international visitors. The reopening of borders also marked the run-up to a spectacular program of major sporting, cultural and entertainment events, a huge drawcard to delight tourists and the residents and citizens of Saudi. From Formula One and Formula E motor racing to the Saudi Cup horse racing, from the Italian and Spanish Super Cups in football to design festivals, music festivals, film festivals, and motoring festivals. There is truly something for everyone.
With this influx of activity and a demand for life to adjust to a COVID-normal world, what did remain clear was the need for safety to be at the core of any recovery framework.
While travel, experiences and adventure are at the forefront of the Saudi tourism offering, a key priority is keeping both international visitors and Saudis safe. The comprehensive measures that Saudi has put in place to counter the spread of COVID-19, including administering more than 45 million doses of vaccine, have led to the travel company Wego.com recently designating Saudi as the sixth safest country to visit in the post-pandemic world.
Programs such as the Future is Tourism will ensure that the dreams of these aspirational young Saudis are fulfilled.
This year, we have Saudi Seasons, the biggest lifestyle and entertainment festival in the Middle East, back in full swing. Riyadh Season and AlUla Moments both kicked off in October and are incredible feats of entertainment. With six months of lifestyle festivals, music, culture and other entertainment experiences for Saudis of all ages, this offering means that Saudis can enjoy all of these events without traveling abroad. Given the protocols in place, it also means that international visitors can come to Saudi and enjoy tourism safely. This priority on health and safety will ensure that Saudi cements its position as the upcoming lifestyle hub of the region.
I recently returned home from TTG Rimini – Italy’s leading travel trade fair – my first European trip since the outbreak of the pandemic. While there, I spoke to numerous people from the industry and felt a palpable excitement about tourism in Saudi. The hosting of major events presented the biggest drawcard to Saudi for international tourists. It is these events, such as the Formula One motor racing and the Italian Super Cup, that is helping to create more awareness about tourism in Saudi and firmly position the country on the global tourism map. The Italians I spoke to were curious about Saudi Arabia and were genuinely interested in visiting and discovering all that Saudi Arabia offers.
Equally important as the range of experiences on offer is the growth of employment in the tourism sector, which has created thousands of new jobs for Saudi men and women. Innovative projects such as the Tourism Human Capital Development Strategy and the Kiram initiative have been launched to provide training, development, and employment programs to encourage the younger generation of Saudis to engage in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
The intense focus on tourism’s future has made employment in the sector a much more competitive career among young Saudis. I can personally attest that tourism in Saudi is now one of the most exciting and dynamic sectors to work in. Programs such as the Future is Tourism, which was launched in March 2021 and aimed to create 100,000 new jobs in tourism by the end of the year, will ensure that the dreams of these aspirational young Saudis are fulfilled. Looking further forward, all these strategies, as extensions of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, aim to create more than one million new jobs by 2030. Tourism growth in Saudi has been remarkable, with more than 95 million domestic and international tourist trips taken between September 2019 and August 2021, generating more than SAR165 billion ($44 billion). Tourism in Saudi will continue to expand as it welcomes more and more visitors from all corners of the globe.
This growth, passion, and dedication from the leadership will be key contributors to the success of the sector in Saudi, to drive tourists, break barriers, build connections and show Saudi to the world.
• Abdullah Al-Dakhil is an international communication manager at the Saudi Tourism Authority. He completed his postgraduate studies in London. His interests are traveling, tourism, culture and the global economy. Twitter: @AbdullahADakhil