Since the adoption of the Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has been looking at ways to reduce its dependence on the oil sector. Led by the crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the government has been working hard to diversify and expand Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector.
Many strategies have been deployed to improve the non-oil sectors, such as digital, technology, and tourism. In particular, the latter has witnessed significant economic growth in recent years, and the government has ambitious plans to further expand it.
Even though tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrims, the government has started looking for new ways to transform its leisure tourism sector, which is expected to become one of the country’s key economic drivers. In the long run, the Kingdom's ambitious goal is to be one of the world’s top five tourist destinations.
With more than 15 million visitors every year, Saudi Arabia is the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East with travelers from the US, UAE, and the UK topped the list for the travel demand. In particular, the US saw a 110% year-on-year growth in demand, while UAE travel demand grew by 140%. By 2030, the Crown Prince Salman targets at increasing the tourism sector’s contribution by up to 10%, or around $100 billion, of the nation’s total GDP, from an actual 2% mark. Currently, the Kingdom’s visa process is quite rigid as a letter from the government is required. However, starting from next month the government plans to enter a new tourism visa process to attract more foreign visitors.
One of the plans to boost the tourism sector is a mega-project named the Six Flags Qiddiya, a theme park located 40 kilometers outside Riyadh. This ‘’ entertainment super-city’’ will feature 28 rides, with 12 of them being record-breaking attractions. According to the CEO of Six Flags, the theme park will feature the longest, tallest and fastest rollercoaster, covering 32 hectares across six themed lands.
Saudi has spent more than $25 billion outside the Kingdom every year on luxury products, entertainment, and leisure. The Crown Prince hopes that expanding tourist attractions such as the Six Flags Qiddyia could also be a way to increase local spending and bring this money back to the country.
The Six Flags Qiddyia theme park, together with the $500 billion NEOM City and the Red Sea Project are the three mega projects to boost the Kingdom’s leisure tourism sector. Moreover, a number of international hotel chains continue to expand in the country, with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) planning to open 50 hotels across seven cities. The PIF is also establishing two training schools in Riyadh and Jeddah to upskill Saudi graduates in Hotel and Hospitality Management.
Saudi’s tourism market mostly depends on the pilgrim tourists, which is expected to grow further up to 30 million by 2030. Nevertheless, the Kingdom hopes that the launch of the new tourist visa and the mega projects will open up the market to large opportunities and help the Kingdom become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.