Saudi Arabia has set its sights high on becoming a major tourism hub that connects Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
At the Arabian Travel Market, the kingdom laid out its ambitious Vision 2030 masterplan, which aims to reposition the country on the global tourism stage.
John Davis, CEO of Colliers International MENA, said: “Saudi Arabia wants to be the heart of the Arabian Islamic world; a global powerhouse and a hub that connects Europe, Asia and Africa.”
In the next 11 years, the Kingdom plans to pump US$36 billion into the country’s roads, airports, railways and sea ports.
Several multibillion-dollar projects are also in the pipeline, including a US$500 billion mega leisure and business development, NEOM. This will comprise 12 small cities, with lifestyle and tourist products, luxury hotels and villas on a 460km stretch of the Red Sea. It will operate solely on wind and solar power and leverage robotics to perform functions such as logistics and security. The first phase is slated for completion by 2020.
The Red Sea project is set to be the Middle East’s first fully-integrated luxury mixed use destination. It will comprise 50 islands dotted in the water, with the first phase of 14 luxury hotels boasting 3,000 hotel keys set to open by 2022.
Badr Al Badr, CEO of Dur Hospitality, said: “We have been in the industry for 42 years and we’ve never seen anything like this, the tourism sector is being totally revamped. The country is opening up to visitors, whether religious or general tourism. There are a lot of investment opportunities to be taken advantage of.”
Visa restrictions have been loosened, with an e-visa scheme set to launch in the coming months, and airport expansions and the construction of new terminals are ongoing. The easing of leisure and entertainment laws have seen a target set of having 2,500 movie screens spread across 350 theatres by 2030.
However, Badr predicts it will be the country’s MICE market that shines in the near future. By 2020, Saudi Arabia will invest US$1.6 billion into facilities, with a swathe of shows already planned, including hosting G20.
Said Badr: “The biggest growth will be the MICE sector. That will really pick up in Saudi Arabia in the next few years, followed by general tourism.”