By Arab News
By Frank Kane
Saudi Arabia is putting the final touches to a “game changer” initiative to attract international tourists, with a visa scheme to open the Kingdom to visitors from up to 50 countries, Okaz newspaper reported.
Sources told Arab News an event to showcase Saudi tourist attractions would take place this month, with a major global advertising campaign launched in the presence of leading international travel and tourism experts.
Leisure tourism — in a market hitherto dominated by pilgrimage — is a vital part of the Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away from oil dependency. Travel experts say tourism and leisure could account for 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2030, adding more than $100 billion a year to the economy.
The event on Sept. 27 will promote “the sights and sounds” of Saudi Arabia to a regional and international audience. Progress on other tourism projects — such as a nationwide digital events calendar and plans to expand the successful “Saudi Seasons” concept — will also feature.
Work is already underway on a luxury resort on the Red Sea coast, visitor facilities at the historic AlUla area and an entertainment city at Qiddiya outside Riyadh.
The economic effects of new tourist visas will be significant. The World Travel and Tourism Council said leisure and tourism accounted for 9 percent of the Kingdom’s economy in 2018, and forecast it would rise to 10.4 percent by 2029, calculated by direct and indirect economic impact.
The property consultancy Colliers International estimated in a recent report that tourism and travel would make up 9 percent of the total GDP by 2026.
Imad Damrah, managing director of Colliers Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that foreign tourism visas would have a significant impact. “It will be a game changer for tourism, leisure and entertainment in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“It will not just encourage more new people to come, but it will be easier for people who have already decided to come.”
Damrah believes Saudi Arabia can hold its own in the global tourism business. “Let’s get some perspective on this. If you come to Saudi Arabia, you can still go to Florida, or Dubai, as well. Every destination has its own attraction,” he said.