Saudi Arabia plans to open tourism offices in 15 countries to woo travellers from new source markets and is planning to attract more cruise liners to its shores, its tourism chief said.
The kingdom has already opened offices in the UK, Germany and Russia to promote the destination, Fahd Hamidaddin, chief executive of the Saudi Tourism Authority, told The National during the Arabian Travel Market on Tuesday. The other markets with planned offices are China, UK, Russia, North America, India, GCC, France, South Korea, Italy, the Nordics, eastern Europe, Japan, Benelux [Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg], Malaysia and Germany/Switzerland/Austria.
"We have identified 15 targeted feeder markets and we plan to open offices this year to serve them. Three offices are already opened in the UK, Germany and Russia," he said.
The move comes as Saudi Arabia expects to re-open its borders to foreign tourists "very soon", Mr Hamidaddin said.
"Definitely, we will aim to make super easy for all vaccinated [travellers]. The discussion now is how can we make it easy through digital integration," he said, pointing to multiple global initiatives on digital health certificates such as the Iata Travel Pass. "Very soon, we're trying to hit summer with international travellers."
Saudi Arabia opened up its tourism industry in 2019, making it easier for foreigners to apply for tourist visas to the kingdom. Developing the nascent tourism industry is part of its Vision 2030 plan to grow the non-oil sector, attract foreign investment and create jobs.
Saudi Arabia is also aiming to expand its cruise ship travel segment.
"During the summer we're activating cruise ships. We tried it last year, it was a dashing success and we're coming back with double the capacity this summer," the government official said. "It's going be the beginning of a growing segment."
This year, it is looking at regional cruises going from the kingdom to Egypt and Jordan, Mr Hamidaddin said.
Cruise Saudi, a business that is wholly owned by the kingdom's Public Investment Fund that seeks to develop Saudi Arabia's cruise industry, and MSC Cruises, the world's largest privately-owned cruise line, said in April they will launch Red Sea cruises starting from November.
Overall, Saudi Arabia is "on track" to attract new investments of $58 billion into tourism projects by 2023 from local, Gulf and international investors, Mr Hamidaddin said. These include investments into hotels, accommodation and cruise lines.
If Saudi Arabia hits its target to reach an immunisation rate of 70 per cent of its population, its plan will be to return to normal tourism activity in the fourth quarter of 2021, which would include theatres, concerts, sports and entertainment, he said.
The country is "well-poised" to attract "cautious travellers" seeking sparse crowds and open spaces with its beaches and mountains, while offering "revenge travellers" the opportunity to explore an undiscovered destination, the official said.
Revenge travel is a new term that describes an urgent, pent-up demand to travel after spending so long at home.