Saudi Arabia to launch kingdom's version of Airbnb

Law change is part of a push to open up the country to foreign tourism and investment

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Saudi Arabia is to allow its citizens to operate Airbnb-style property rentals after the kingdom announced a new portal similar to the global lettings marketplace.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb approved the tourism law on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to be a top-five global tourism destination by 2030 as the country's leadership opens up the country to foreign tourism and investment.

Citizens will need to apply for a permit to rent out their properties and submit a copy of the title deed or legitimate lease contract that proves ownership.

The country aims to increase the private sector's contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) to 65 per cent by 2030, up from 40 per cent in 2016, when Saudi Vision 2030 was announced. It wants to reduce its dependence on oil to grow its economy.

By 2030, the kingdom is seeking to create a million jobs for its young people in tourism, to account for 10 per cent of the country's GDP.

“This will definitely increase jobs and overall performance of the tourism and hospitality sector,” said Jeddah businessman Saeed Hamid.

“It is good to know we have strict measures in place and that the ministry will take into account the environment.

“I invest in local hotel apartments so I know that this move will change the game for the travel industry. Saudis are by nature hospitable and now people will get a chance to experience our homes and hospitality first-hand.”

Properties will be advertised through an official tourism service provider in line with the regulations set by the ministry, which will publish prices inclusive of taxes.

Strict guidelines have been issued on maintaining tourists' privacy, with constant surveillance of authorities on security, health and safety measures, including ambulance and evacuation procedures.

'Cheaper than five-star hotels'

The new law will help increase the variety of accommodation in the country, offering competitive prices and more options for tourists.

“Instead of booking hotels in foreign countries, I like to book local apartments to witness local hospitality, and it's much cheaper than booking five-star hotels all the time,” said Celine Ali, a Canadian living in Jeddah.

Nada Karam, a Saudi resident in Jeddah, said: “This will help increase tourism within the country itself. I think it's fantastic. We don't need to book expensive hotels and especially with children and big families.

“It's much easier to book a beautiful house where you can even take your staff, where they have more space and everyone can relax.”

Last year, the kingdom saw an increase of 575 per cent in tourism compared with the previous year, with 3.6 million visitors in the second quarter, according to figures released by the Ministry of Investment. There was also an increase of 42.3 per cent in domestic tourism.

“We recently stayed with a Saudi family and we absolutely loved the experience,” said Antony, a Chinese tourist in Jeddah. “It is great to see the country open up as we would have never been able to visit places like AlUla, had we not had the chance. Our friends came recently and recommended Saudi Arabia to us and that's why we are here.”

The National Tourism Strategy of Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million tourists by 2030.

Mr Al Khateeb said the kingdom has opened up foreign investment opportunities worth $6 trillion in its tourism sector.

Updated: January 05, 2023, 11:26 AM