Saudi Arabia has announced its target of attracting 100 million tourists a year by 2030, despite the world's top tourism destinations being unable to reach such a figure. "This step will move the Kingdom's current position in the tourism rank from 21 to number 5 globally in the proportion of the number of tourists," said Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb.
According to the World Economic Forum, France was the most visited country with a record of almost 90 million tourists in 2018. A target of 100 million is, therefore, very ambitious.
The minister outlined a series of plans to increase the number of tourists to the Kingdom, including the building of an additional 500,000 hotel rooms, the creation of one million jobs for Saudi nationals and the training of tour guides to increase their number from the current 900 to 13,000. Such changes, it is hoped, will increase the contribution of tourism to the GDP from three to 10 per cent over the next decade.
Despite marketing around a hundred historical sites in the Kingdom, many remain sceptical about Saudi Arabia becoming a top tourist destination given that it has only relatively recently launched a tourism sector.
All of these moves are intended to open up the country to international tourism. A new visa system has been introduced, allowing visitors to go to Saudi Arabia solely for the purpose of tourism rather than business, family reunions or religious pilgrimages as was the case previously.
Months into the coronavirus pandemic, the government in Riyadh announced plans in June to launch a $4 billion tourism development fund to boost the industry when the effects of Covid-19 pass. Last month, the fund signed a deal with two of the country's banks to provide $43 billion worth of tourism projects across the Kingdom.