Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi Arabia drew 27 million foreign tourists in 2023 and has more than doubled its goal for the end of the decade, an official said on Tuesday.
The announcement came less than five years after the Gulf kingdom fully opened up to tourism and as fears persist that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war could engulf the wider region.
“We have reached 100 million tourists this year, 77 million from home, 27 million from abroad, over 100 million,” Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said at a conference organised by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, describing the 2023 figures.
Authorities now hope to hit 150 million tourists by 2030, up from an earlier goal of 100 million, with 70 million of those coming from abroad, up from an earlier goal of 30 million, he said.
Tourism is an important element of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, which aims to help the world’s biggest crude exporter transition away from fossil fuels and prepare for an eventual post-oil future.
Home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has long welcomed pilgrims as well as business travellers, but it inaugurated a general tourism visa only in 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.
While the kingdom has in recent years relaxed rules barring cinemas, gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas, other regulations including an alcohol ban remain in place, potentially denting its appeal.
New resorts along the Red Sea coast are expected to be a major draw, though recent attacks on Red Sea shipping by Huthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen have revived security concerns in the area.
The Huthis, who have been at war with a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015, say their attacks are an act of solidarity with Palestinians and a protest against the Israel-Hamas war that has been raging in the Gaza Strip since October.
© 2024 AFP