Saudi Arabia aims to become one of the top global tourism destinations by 2030, welcoming over 100 million visitors annually. To achieve this goal, Saudi Arabia realises that it will have to promote itself aggressively as a leisure destination.

Tourism Vision 2030 attracts significant investment

In 2016, Saudi Arabia announced that it was embarking on a unique and transformative economic and social reform, called Saudi Vision 2030, that would open the country to the world. One of the key strategic sectors for development mapped out in Vision 2030 is tourism. According to a report from Entrepreneur Middle East, Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to invest another $1.5 trillion in the tourism sector over the next ten years from a dedicated ‘tourism war-chest’. This is in addition to the investments that it has already made since 2016.

Key to Vision 2030 is a number of large-scale, complex, and multi-purpose construction projects, including various leisure tourism projects. This includes nine mega-projects and giga-projects announced between 2016 and 2020 such as NEOM, the Red Sea Project, and Qiddiya. Also in development are places with an emphasis on adventure and cultural holidays, like Saudi’s Arabian Highlands and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Hegra in Al’Ula.

Ambitious target of 100 million visitors annually

Historically, the country has struggled to attract both domestic and international visitors due to societal limitations. However, the Kingdom has set an incredibly ambitious target to attract 100 million visitors annually by 2030, from both domestic and foreign tourists. In 2021, Saudi Arabia attracted just 2.5 million inbound visitors, down from 10.9 million in 2019, according to GlobalData. Meanwhile, the number of domestic tourists reached 44.9 million in 2021.

The popular religious destination is seemingly pivoting towards leisure tourism, with a calendar of events to attract leisure tourists to achieve its 2030 ambitions such as the the Riyadh Season 2021, an entertainment event that spanned over five months from October 2021. The opening ceremony, which had American rapper Pitbull performing, was attended by more than 750,000 people. In December 2021, the port city of Jeddah hosted the debut edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, as well as the Formula One Grand Prix. Furthermore, the country has hosted an increasing number of international sporting events, including the Italian Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.

A significant number of challenges still to contend with

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced Saudi Arabia to re-orientate its strategic focus on domestic tourism. However, no adjustments to their larger 2030 targets have been made. If anything, the speed with which the country hopes to grow its tourism sector is more bullish. The multi-million-dollar investment will be a welcomed reprieve for an industry that has endured the prolonged absence of international tourists, but the tourism industry still faces a barrage of additional challenges to contend with. These includes intense competition with countries and cities worldwide that are also scrambling to attract international arrivals and tourism spending, as well as issues associated with overtourism and environmental degradation, and overcoming reputational issues to attract a new stream of leisure tourists.

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