Saudi Arabia expects to attract about 100 million domestic and international visitors this year, with the tourism sector contributing almost 6 per cent to the kingdom's gross domestic product in 2023.
The country will close the year with about 30 million international tourists, which is nearly half of its goal of 70 million overseas visitors by 2030, Saudi Arabia's Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb told the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh this week.
Saudi Arabia has also revised upwards its 2030 target for total annual tourist trips – a figure that entails both domestic and international travellers – to 150 million from 100 million, the minister said.
Of the 150 million, it is aiming for an even split of about 75 million domestic tourists and 75 million international travellers, he said.
“Travel and tourism is a very important sector, it grows in excess of the global [economic] growth,” Mr Al Khateeb said.
“Definitely the expanding of the middle class in India and China will encourage further travel. The World Travel and Tourism Council is expecting international arrivals to double by 2032, which is very attractive for us.”
International tourism is continuing to recover from the pandemic as arrival numbers reached 84 per cent of pre-Covid levels between January and July 2023, according to the latest data from the UN World Tourism Organisation.
Leading the global sector's rebound are the Middle East, Europe and Africa, it said in its World Tourism Barometer report in September.
The Middle East reported the best results in the first seven months of the year, with tourist arrivals reaching 20 per cent above pre-pandemic levels.
Saudi Arabia this year expects to receive 30 million international tourists and about 75 million domestic visitors, according to the Tourism Minister.
That compares with the 79.4 million international tourist arrivals to France in 2022, making it the most visited country in Europe, according to SchengenVisaInfo.com.
Thailand, another tourism hotspot, attracted 11.15 million foreign visitors in 2022, according to its tourism ministry.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to accelerate its goal of becoming a global travel destination and one of the world's most visited countries.
It has earmarked $800 billion in tourism investments over the next decade, created the new airline Riyadh Air to bring people into the country and announced plans for a massive new airport in Riyadh to welcome 120 million passengers by 2030.
The kingdom has set a goal for the tourism sector to contribute 10 per cent to GDP by 2030, up from 3 per cent in 2019.
The push to attract more tourists is part of a wider plan to diversify the economy from oil.
Kingdom Holding, the investment vehicle controlled by billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, and Red Sea Global entered into a joint venture to develop a tourist resort that will be operated by the Four Seasons hotels and resorts group.
The companies will each hold 50 per cent of the joint venture through special purpose vehicles, Kingdom Holding said on Tuesday in a filing to the Tadawul stock exchange.
The project will be allocated a budget of about 2 billion Saudi riyals ($533 million), with Kingdom Holding and Red Sea Global each investing 258 million riyals. The remaining capital commitment will be financed by debt provided to the joint venture company.
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 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.