Vision 2030 only the start of tourism drive, Saudi official says

Kingdom aims for 100 million visits by 2030 as it seeks to diversify economy

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Vision 2030 is only the start of a new, sustainable Saudi tourism industry that will create jobs and allow the world to enjoy the kingdom’s ancient treasures, a senior official said.

Saudi Arabia is targeting 100 million visits a year by 2030 and wants to increase tourism's contribution to gross domestic product from 3 per cent now to 10 per cent, said Majed AlGhanim.

Mr AlGhanim is managing director of tourism and quality of life at the kingdom’s General Investment Authority.

He said about 77,000 e-visas were issued to people from around the world in the first month of a recently introduced scheme as part of Vision 2030’s goal to diversify the Saudi economy.

“There’s much more to offer," Mr AlGhanim said at the World Tourism Market in London.

"We have thousands of historical sites, five Unesco world heritage sites and then the developments will come to these areas as well. We believe that 2030 is just the start.

“After that we have much more to offer and we’re looking forward to sharing all these experiences with everyone."

He said leisure tourism was one of the main pillars of Vision 2030 but insisted that Saudi authorities also remained dedicated to improving visits by religious tourists to the kingdom’s holy sites.

“We know that it is a journey we are taking and it will take time for us to reach our goals," Ms AlGhanim said. "We have very ambitious goals."

He was talking as part of a panel of Saudi tourism leaders who were positive about the country’s future development.

Mark Willis, chief executive of AccorHotels MEA, who has worked with Saudi Arabia in for about 20 years, said he had seen “a lot of changes but none like we have seen in the past 36 months”.

Jerry Inzerillo, chief executive of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, said: “Vision 2030 is a promise to the society of Saudi Arabia principally, because [King Salman] and the Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] feel that if the society is healthy and entertained that it will be more joyful."

Mr Inzerillo employs a team of 300, 83 per cent of whom are Saudi, at the ancient site of Diriyah but plans to increase it to 50,000.

But John Pagano, chief executive of the Red Sea Development Company, which was announced in July 2017, said it was important that any tourism development was sustainable and not overbuilt.

Mr Pagano said about 50 hotels are to be built, as is a new international airport as part of the planned luxury destination about 500 kilometres north of Jeddah.

“We have probably one of the most precious environments and hidden treasures in the world today," he said.

"One of our mandates is not only to protect it but also to seek to enhance it for generations to come.

"And while we want tourism and we’re going to welcome tourism, we’re going to be much more measured in the way we go about it."