Saudi Arabia is the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East with over 16 million visiting in 2017. Although most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector. As the tourism sector has been largely boosted lately, the sector is expected to be the white oil for Saudi Arabia. This is proved as tourism sector is expected to generate $25 billion in 2019. Potential tourist areas include the Hijaz and Sarawat Mountains, Red Sea diving and a number of ancient ruins.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2018, Travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia added 9% to the Kingdom’s total economy which is worth $65.2 billion.
In December 2013, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to begin issuing tourist visas for the first time in its history. Council of Ministers entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities with visa issuing on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs. On 27 September 2019, Saudi Arabia formally announced the issuance of the tourist visa to visitors from 49 countries for a fee of $80. The visa can be either obtained online (eVisa) or on arrival. Ten days after the implementation of instant tourist visas, 24,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia. China visitors topped the list, with the UK and the US in second and third.
Popular places to visit in Saudi Arabia are Makkah, Medina, Mada'in Salih, Yanbu, Tabuk, Jeddah and Riyadh.
Arriving in Saudi Arabia can be through 13 international airports served by various global airlines. There are also 15 domestic airports connecting the country regions and cites. For moving within the country, there are budget airlines like Flynas, Fyadeal, Nesma Airlines, in addition to Saudi Airlines and SaudiGulf Airlines.
Main article: List of museums in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has a variety of museum ranging from historical museums, archeological museums, and cultural and scientific museums. These museums are exhibiting the art life, old handicrafts, and antiquities of the Kingdom and including :
Main article: List of World Heritage sites in Saudi Arabia
There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia inscribed from 2008 to 2018., these are as follows :
Tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages. Mecca receives over three million pilgrims a year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj, and around two million during the month of Ramadan to perform Umrah. During the rest of the year, Mecca receives around four million for Umrah. The Hajj, or pilgrimage to the city, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Only Muslims are permitted in Mecca.
Main article: Saudi Seasons
It is a nation-wide tourism initiative that aims at attracting local and international tourists. The seasons are organized in many Saudi cities at different times throughout the year.
There are currently 11 seasons as follows:
Red Sea is being developed as a beach resort where women can wear bikinis. The construction began in 2019. The Red Sea is one of the seven wonders of the underwater world. Known for its beautiful coral reefs and abundant marine life, it is listed as one of the best diving locations in the world.
Most visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia on a short term basis were from the following countries:
By 2019, the domestic tourism is planned to increase by 8% and the international tourism is expected to increase to 5.6%. Saudi Arabia’s overall number of tourist trips is on course to be 93.8 million by 2023, up from 64.7 million in 2018. Riyadh and Jeddah hosted Color Runs in late 2019. Hotels are no longer required to ask Saudi couples for proof of marriage for a check-in. The government is spending billions[clarification needed] on bringing forms of entertainment such as wrestling, tennis, car racing, expensive restaurants and concerts to expand tourism.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed Argentine professional footballer and Paris Saint-Germain forward, Lionel Messi, as its tourism ambassador in May 2022. Messi was signed by Saudi Arabia as its ambassador during a trip he made to the country’s port city of Jeddah, along the Red Sea. Saudi’s Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Al Khateeb officially announced the signing in a tweet by writing, “This is not his first visit to the kingdom and it will not be the last”, indicating the footballer’s future visits to Saudi for promoting its tourism.  The news received critical reactions from media and human rights groups calling it Saudi Arabia’s use of sports to improve its reputation.
In August 2022, Messi was reached out by the family of a 15-year-old boy who was arrested in Saudi Arabia and charged with a death sentence. The family wrote a letter requesting Messi to intervene in the case of Mohammed al Faraj, who was arrested in 2017 for allegedly committing crime against the Saudi regime. Whereas, the family of the young man claimed that he was tortured into confessing for the crimes, he did not commit. Reprieve, the human rights organization working with the family on the case also claimed Saudi Arabia as using sport to launder its reputation.