Saudi Arabia's revenue from tourism more than tripled in the first quarter of 2023 to 37 billion Saudi riyals ($9.86 billion) as the kingdom seeks to attract more foreign visitors and diversify its economy from oil.
Incoming tourism revenue rose 225 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2022 as visitor numbers increased, state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
The kingdom hosted about 7.8 million tourists during the first three months of 2023, its highest quarterly performance, which marked an increase of 64 per cent compared to the same period, before the pandemic, in 2019.
The increase in revenue led the kingdom to post a surplus in the balance of payments for the tourism sector in the first quarter, amounting to 22.8 billion riyals, compared with a deficit of 1.6 billion riyals in the same period last year, the SPA said.
This follows the Ministry of Tourism's “efforts to boost the tourism sector and its contribution to the growth of the national economy, which corresponds to the objectives of the National Tourism Development Strategy,” the agency said.
The kingdom's tourism strategy has set goals including attracting 100 million new visits, a contribution of 10 per cent to the gross domestic production by the tourism sector and 1 million new jobs in the sector by 2030.
Saudi Arabia emerged as the second-fastest growing tourism destination during the first quarter of 2023, according to the World Tourism Organisation’s data issued in May.
The country'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, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
By 2032, the sector’s contribution to Saudi Arabia's GDP could reach nearly 635 billion riyals, representing 17.1 per cent of the kingdom's total economy, it said in a July 2022 report.
In 2022, more than 93.5 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia – 77 million domestic and 16.5 million international visitors.
“The pandemic is behind us … we will grow fast this year, we're optimistic,” he said at the time. He added that the target of 100 million visitors by the end of the decade is “very doable”.
He also called on investors to capitalise on “amazing opportunities in a virgin market with a high rate of growth in the next decade or two”.
The company will invest in new tourism projects and develop destinations with hospitality, tourist attractions, retail, and food and beverage offerings in cities across Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, the PIF said.
Besides offering co-investment opportunities to the private sector, Asfar will aim to create a supportive environment for local suppliers, contractors, and small and medium-sized enterprises to develop tourism projects.
The kingdom is also investing in its aviation sector to ensure the infrastructure is in place to handle the targeted number of international tourists over the coming decade.
The new national airline Riyadh Air aims to connect to more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030 after it begins operations in 2025.
Saudi Arabia is also home to Jeddah-based national carrier Saudia and its low cost subsidiary flyadeal.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last November announced that a new airport will be opened in the capital Riyadh with six parallel runways and designed to accommodate up to 120 million travellers by 2030.