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Are Saudi Arabia’s 2030 tourism aspirations too ambitious in new normal of COVID-19?

Are Saudi Arabia’s 2030 visitor aspirations too ambitious in the new normal of COVID-19?
Are Saudi Arabia’s 2030 tourism aspirations too ambitious in new normal of COVID-19?
Written by Harry S. Johnson

Saudi Arabia claims it remains on track to reach its ambitious target of welcoming 100 million tourists annually by 2030. This would mean a near six-fold increase in tourist arrivals over the next 11 years, from the 17 million visitors the country welcomed in 2019.

An increase on this scale now appears overly ambitious, with the massive impact that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had on global travel and tourism. Industry experts forecast that Saudi Arabia’s international arrivals will reach 21 million by 2024, and therefore, an increase to 100 million by 2030 remains very challenging in the current climate.

However, that does not mean that Saudi Arabia cannot become a dominant force in the Middle East destination market, The Red Sea Project is looking to establish Saudi Arabia as a luxury tourist destination which could attract many of the tourists that travel to Dubai each year, particularly high-spending travelers from the UK and China. Meanwhile, the capital city of Riyadh has the potential to establish itself as a premium luxury destination to rival Dubai.

Religious attractions and celebrations is already the main source of tourism in the country with millions of international visitors arriving to take part in the Hajj and Umrah. A more accessible Saudi Arabia could attract a greater number of Muslim visitors to these events each year.

Saudi Arabia is also home to historical sites dating back thousands of years, and so the country could become a hub for cultural tourism to the Middle East thereby diversifying the type of tourist that the country attracts.

Sports tourism is another area that Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in, recently hosting Anthony Joshua’s world title fight against Andy Ruiz. Hosting major sporting events provides Saudi Arabia with a major opportunity to market itself as a prime tourist destination.

Saudi Arabia offers much that can attract a high number of international visitors each year. The country has a number of initiatives in place to help achieve its ambitious tourist targets to 2030, but it remains to be seen how much of a limiting factor COVID-19 has on international arrivals over the coming years.