Is Saudi Arabia open to tourists

Saudi Arabia opens up to tourism

The country has so far been living on oil, but has broadened its economy: Saudi Arabia primarily wants to promote cultural tourism, but is also building resorts on the long coast of the Red Sea, as Haitham Mattar explained at the fvw congress.

As a travel destination with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia is of fundamental importance for pilgrims from the Muslim world. However, for many years it did not play a role as a tourist destination. But that should change noticeably in the next few years, said Haitham Mattar, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Tourism, at the fvw Congress.

"Vision 2030" aims to broaden the economy

Tourism fits into the "Vision 2030". This reform project aims to broaden the kingdom's economy and make it more independent of the dominant oil sector, explained Mattar, who previously headed the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority for more than four years.

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia opened its doors to tourists for the first time. According to the Saudi Tourism Authority, more than half a million visas were issued for international guests by the Corona lockdown in March 2020. An electronic visa was also introduced.

Especially in Germany there is potential for cultural travelers

"Above all, we want to appeal to visitors who are interested in culture and want to discover a new travel destination," said Mattar. The country has five Unesco world heritage sites and impressive landscapes, such as the rock formation called "End of the World" near the capital Riyadh or the Sarwat mountain range.

Mattar sees potential for study travelers in Germany in particular. Travelers should respect the local culture, Mattar says, but visitors don't have to wear an abaya, the traditional robe.

In addition to cultural experiences, bathing tourism is also to be developed along the 2250-kilometer coast of the Red Sea. Several integrated resorts are already under construction, including one on the Gulf of Aqaba.

One of the most extensive projects is the Red Sea Development Project. 3000 hotel rooms and leisure facilities are to be built here. Here, too, there is a move away from oil and a move in the direction of sustainability: The complex is to be operated entirely with renewable energies and free of plastic.

First discussions with major organizers

According to Mattar, there are also initial talks with large tour operators such as TUI and FTI for the resorts. For cultural trips, the aim is to work with study and tour specialists. In addition to luxury hotels, there is also a range of good middle-class hotels, according to Mattar.

International hotel chains are already mainly represented in the cities. Rotana from Abu Dhabi, for example, is constantly expanding its range. In the Red Sea Development Project, Accor wants to operate a resort under the Banyan Tree brand.