Al-Bahah
Hafar al-Batin
Turkish hajjis, visiting Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, are seen at the valley of Jabal Thawr. A part of tourism in Saudi Arabia consists of pilgrims visiting holy sites for their historic significance rather than any religious obligation.

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East with over 16 million visiting in 2017.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.

Museums

Main article: List of museums in Saudi Arabia

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Nasseef House in Al-Balad, Jeddah

Saudi Arabia has a variety of museums ranging from historical museums, archeological museums, and cultural and scientific museums. These museums exhibit the art life, old handicrafts, and antiquities of the Kingdom and including:

Masmak fort

World Heritage Sites

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;[13] they are as follows:

Main festivals and events

Religious tourism

Muslim pilgrims in Mecca

Tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages. Mecca and Medina receive over three million pilgrims a year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj,[30] and around two million during the month of Ramadan to perform Umrah.[31] During the rest of the year, Mecca and Medina receive 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 and Medina.

Saudi Seasons

Wadi Ashar in Al-'Ula

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.[32]

There are currently 11 seasons as follows:

  1. Riyadh season: The biggest of its kind, lasts nearly three months, beginning in October. With a history of breaking records and hosting international sensations like BTS, Riyadh Season is a massive event featuring theater shows, concerts, musical events, plays, exhibitions, and interactive experiences.[33]
  2. Jeddah season: Lasting about two months from May to June, stands out with 2,800 events across plays, concerts, and exhibitions. Set against the backdrop of the Red Sea City, it is renowned for water activities, hosting diving lessons, boating activities, and a vibrant yacht club.[33]
  3. Eastern province season: Beginning in March and lasting for two weeks, unfolds with water sports, concerts, multimedia exhibitions, and cultural and educational events, making it a dynamic showcase of the region's diverse offerings.[33]
  4. Taif season: Hosted in August and lasting around a month, focuses on the heritage of Saudi Arabia, featuring concerts by famous Arab musicians. The festival includes diverse zones like Souk Okaz, Crown Prince Camel Festival, Al Ward Heritage Village, and the Al-Baid Masters, offering a varied spectrum of cultural experiences.[33]
  5. Al-Diriyah season: Spanning from October to the new year in the historic city, the original capital of Saudi Arabia located near Riyadh's city center, has emerged as a prominent foodie destination set against the dusty landscape. Known for various sport competitions, including equestrian events and boxing championships, it offers a unique blend of cultural richness and athletic skill.[33]
  6. Al-Ula season: Also known as Winter at Tantora, is the last of the main Saudi Seasons, typically running from December to January. Celebrating the breathtaking landscapes of AlUla, it combines the best in art, music, fashion, and food, offering a unique and enriching experience to visitors.[33]
  7. Al Soudah season.
  8. National Day season.
  9. Hail season.
  10. Ramadan season.
  11. Eid Al-Fitr season.[34]

Other sites

The Red Sea is being developed as a beach resort where women can wear bikinis.[35] 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.[36]

Tourists in Saudi

National Museum
Number of arrivals

The Travel & Tourism sector in Saudi Arabia is set for impressive growth, with an anticipated annual average increase of 11% over the next decade, positioning itself as the fastest-growing industry in the Middle East. This positive trajectory is highlighted by a projection that the Kingdom is expected to attract a substantial 22.1 million international arrivals by 2025. Such a promising outlook not only emphasizes the increasing allure of Saudi Arabia as a travel destination but also signifies the country's strategic efforts to establish itself as a key player in the global tourism landscape.[citation needed]

Most visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia on a short term basis were from the following countries:

Rank Country 2015 2016
1  Bangladesh N/A 3,006,729
2  Pakistan N/A 2,878,674
3  Indonesia N/A 2,555,000
4  Yemen N/A 2,426,711
5  India N/A 1,800,431
6  Egypt N/A 1,162,955
7  Iraq N/A 999,683
8  Jordan N/A 801,000
9  Syria N/A 784,502
10  Sudan N/A 500,318

Future prospects

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.[2] 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.[37] Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup. The country announced its bid in October 2023, and was the only nation to submit a bid by the deadline, presenting a significant and promising opportunity for the future development and global recognition of Saudi Arabia.[38]

Saudi Arabia's tourism strategy is closely aligned with the 2030 vision, seeking to significantly enhance the sector's role in the domestic economy. The plan targets a contribution of over 10% to the growth of domestic product (GDP), the creation of one million new job opportunities, and the attraction of 100 million annual visits by 2030. This ambitious agenda reflects a comprehensive effort to position the Kingdom as a prominent player in the global tourism landscape.[39]

Embarking on a transformative journey to diversify its economic, social, and cultural dimensions, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince has unveiled four pivotal projects under the ambitious 2030 vision. Qiddiyah Entertainment City, a colossal recreational and entertainment hub, promises a world of theme parks, sports facilities, desert tracks for motorsports, and a diverse array of historical and cultural events. NEOM, a $500 billion endeavor, envisions a futuristic city near the Red Sea, incorporating multiple cities, airports, seaports, and innovation centers. Meanwhile, the Red Sea Project focuses on luxury tourism, highlighting the natural wonders of the Red Sea through sustainable practices. Amaala Resort, an ultra-luxurious project, centers on wellness, healthy tourism, and cultural experiences, all aimed at not only elevating the nation's income but also transforming the quality of life for its citizens through world class tourism and entertainment experiences. With these visionary projects under the 2030 vision, the future prospects for the nation's economic, social, and cultural landscape appear promising and transformative.[40]

Promotion

Lionel Messi as ambassador

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed Argentine professional footballer and Paris Saint-Germain forward, Lionel Messi, as its tourism ambassador in May 2022.[41] 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.[42][43] The news received critical reactions from media and human rights groups calling it Saudi Arabia’s use of sports to improve its reputation.[44]

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.[45]

Gallery

See also

References

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