RIYADH: Air passenger demand is likely to double globally over the next 20 years, with Asia-Pacific and the Middle East accounting for 58 percent of the volume, according to a report by Airports Council International.
Global passenger numbers are forecast to rise from 9.2 billion in 2019 to about 19 billion in 2040 predicted the ACI Asia-Pacific's Airport Industry Outlook, a quarterly assessment of the airports' performances.
Of this volume, Middle Eastern airports are expected to handle 1.1 billion passengers by 2040 – a significant increase of nearly 300 percent of the combined traffic of 505 million they handled in 2019.
ACI Director General of ACI Asia-Pacific Stefano Baronci said that the region must prepare itself for the oncoming influx: "The consistent improvement in passenger volumes in the region is a positive indication of a sustained recovery of the industry following prolonged efforts towards rebuilding passenger confidence in air travel."
He said restoring international connectivity will take longer and will be partly dependent on the decision of China to re-connect to the World. "The macroeconomic headwinds, less acute in Asia than other western regions, should not hamper a process of growth, subject to continue to maintain the freedom to travel without restrictions."
"All the stakeholders engaged in the aviation ecosystem must prepare to the surge in traffic,” insisted the ACI director general.
The Middle East is an ideally located axis for travel — aircraft flying from the geographical crossroads can reach almost all of Asia, Africa, and Europe within eight hours.
Tourism is one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, to contribute to diversifying the base of the national economy, attracting investments, increasing sources of income, and providing job opportunities for citizens, as the sector is witnessing rapid growth as a result of plans to promote the tourism sector.
Last month, a report by the World Tourism Organization listed Saudi Arabia as top of the Group of 20 countries for the flow rating of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022.
The report, released during the G20 tourism ministers’ meeting held in Bali, Indonesia, did not detail the exact number of travelers who visited the Kingdom, but claimed the sector saw a growth rate of 121 percent in the first half of 2022.
During the event, Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said the surge in tourist inflow aligns with the Kingdom’s economic diversification policies and aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, as outlined in Vision 2030, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Calling Saudi Arabia one of the fastest-growing markets for tourism, Al-Khateeb said the Kingdom’s tourism sector is accelerating at a rate of 14 percent compared to the pre-coronavirus pandemic period.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 450,000 tourist visas were issued, since the Kingdom’s Tourism Authority launched the tourist visa program in 2019, by targeting 49 countries in the initial stage, and facilitated access to tourist visas electronically or through entry points to the Kingdom within specific regulatory controls.
Earlier in June, Al-Khateeb said that Saudi Arabia has allocated $100 million to provide training for 100,000 people to work in the tourism and sustainability sector.
He added that 90 hotels were launched in the Kingdom as a part of its tourism strategy, and more hotels will be opened soon, with 70 percent being funded by the private sector.
Al-Khateeb, in June, told AFP that the Kingdom is hoping to attract 12 million foreign visitors in 2022, up from the 4 million tourists who visited Saudi Arabia in 2021.
“Saudi Arabia will change the tourism landscape globally. The destinations that Saudi will offer by 2030, it’s something completely different,” he said.