Saudi tourism sector to be Mena's fastest-growing in next decade, WTTC says

Employment in travel industry set to double by 2032 and exceed pre-pandemic levels by next year

An ancient Nabataean carved tomb at the archaeological site of Al Hijr (Hegra), one of Saudi Arabia's prime tourist attractions. AFP
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Saudi Arabia's travel and tourism sector will grow an average 11 per cent annually over the next decade, making it the Middle East's fastest-growing market, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has said.

Annual growth in the industry is set to bolster the overall economic recovery of the kingdom, the global tourism body said in a statement on Monday.

By 2032, the sector’s contribution to Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product could reach nearly 635 billion Saudi riyals ($169bn), representing 17.1 per cent of the kingdom's total economy, it said.

“Travel and tourism will become a driving force of the Saudi Arabian economy and will surpass the goals set out in its Vision 2030 blueprint," said Julia Simpson, WTTC president and chief executive.

Saudi Arabia had been developing its tourism industry before the Covid-19 outbreak, as part of its efforts to diversify the country's economy and steer away from dependence on oil. In May, the kingdom achieved the second biggest improvement in ranking among 117 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s index on travel and tourism. From 2019 to 2021, Saudi Arabia moved up to 33rd position from 43rd, as its score rose by 2.3 per cent.

Employment in Saudi Arabia's travel and tourism sector could double over the next 10 years, creating more than 1.4 million jobs, to reach almost three million employed within the sector by 2032, the WTTC forecasts.

By 2023, Saudi Arabia’s travel and tourism sector contribution to the national economy could surpass pre-pandemic levels, when it is projected to rise 2 per cent above 2019 levels, to reach nearly 297bn riyals.

Employment in the sector could also exceed 2019 levels by 14.1 per cent by the end of next year, the tourism body said.

By the end of 2022, the sector’s contribution to the kingdom's GDP is expected to grow 15.2 per cent to nearly 223bn riyals, amounting to 7.2 per cent of the total economic output, while employment in the sector is set to grow by 16.1 per cent to reach more than 1.5 million jobs.

The kingdom is scheduled to host WTTC’s 22nd Global Summit in Riyadh in November this year.

“I am delighted the kingdom is hosting our 22nd Global Summit, where we will be able to continue our efforts of showcasing the importance of the travel and tourism sector and look ahead to the future of travel," Ms Simpson said.

Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia’s travel and tourism sector's total contribution to GDP was 9.7 per cent (291.6bn riyals) in 2019, falling to only 6.6 per cent (190.6bn riyals) in 2020.

The sector also supported nearly 1.6 million jobs, before an almost complete halt to international travel, which resulted in a loss of 350,000 jobs (22.2 per cent), to reach slightly more than 1.2 million in 2020.

Updated: July 05, 2022, 6:00 AM