Tourism in Saudi Arabia has a lot of potential. But why is tourism in this area growing so fast and how should it be managed? Read on to find out…
Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, traditionally known for its vast oil reserves and as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, has recently embarked on a transformative journey to diversify its socio-economic landscape by investing significantly in the tourism sector.
This article offers an academic exploration into Saudi Arabia’s evolving role and aspirations within the global tourism arena. By dissecting its historical foundations, examining its strategic Vision 2030 initiatives, and analysing the socio-cultural implications of this shift, we aim to provide a nuanced perspective on the challenges and opportunities shaping the future of tourism in Saudi Arabia.
Geographical overview of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a large country located in the Middle East, occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula. It covers an area of approximately 2.15 million square kilometers and is the 12th largest country in the world. The country is bordered by Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the north and northeast, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast, and Yemen to the south.
The country is largely desert, with some mountain ranges in the west, and a few scattered oases. The central region of the country is known as the Najd, which is a vast plateau that covers most of the country’s interior. The eastern region, on the other hand, is home to the world’s largest oil fields and is also the location of the country’s major cities such as Riyadh, the capital, and Jeddah, the country’s commercial hub.
Saudi Arabia is also home to a number of important bodies of water. The Red Sea lies to the west of the country, while the Persian Gulf lies to the east. The country is also home to a number of important rivers, including the Wadi Hanifa, the Wadi al-Rummah, and the Wadi al-Batin.
The climate of Saudi Arabia is generally hot and dry, with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. Rainfall is generally scarce, and the country is prone to dust storms, particularly during the summer months. Despite the harsh climate, the country has a rich history and culture, with a number of important historical and archaeological sites located throughout the country.
The Tourism industry in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a country that has been traditionally associated with religious tourism, as it is home to the two most important Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina. However, in recent years, the country has been working to diversify its tourism offerings and attract more visitors from around the world. The government has launched a number of initiatives to promote tourism and improve the infrastructure for visitors.
One of the key initiatives is the “Vision 2030” plan, which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and develop other industries, including tourism. The plan includes a number of projects to develop the tourism industry, such as building new hotels, resorts, and attractions, improving the transportation infrastructure, and promoting the country’s cultural heritage and natural beauty.
Some of the key tourism destinations in Saudi Arabia include the cities of Mecca and Medina, which attract millions of pilgrims each year, as well as the ancient city of Al-Ula, which is home to a number of important archaeological sites and rock formations. The country also has a number of beautiful beaches along its Red Sea coast, such as in the cities of Jeddah and Yanbu, as well as stunning desert landscapes, such as in the Rub’ al Khali or “Empty Quarter”.
To support these efforts, the government has also introduced new regulations and initiatives to make it easier for visitors to travel to the country, such as introducing e-visas and expanding the list of countries eligible for visa-free entry.
Overall, the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia is still in its early stages of development, but with the government’s commitment to promoting the sector and the country’s many natural and cultural attractions, it has great potential for growth in the years to come.
Statistics about tourism in Saudi Arabia
Here are 10 key statistics about tourism in Saudi Arabia:
- In 2019, the total number of visitors to Saudi Arabia was 17.6 million, representing a 31% increase from the previous year.
- The majority of visitors to Saudi Arabia in 2019 were from other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with 76% of visitors coming from these countries.
- Religious tourism is a major component of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia, with approximately 8 million pilgrims visiting the country each year to perform the Hajj and Umrah.
- The tourism industry is expected to contribute more than 10% of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030, according to the Vision 2030 plan.
- The country has set a target of attracting 100 million visitors per year by 2030.
- In 2019, the most visited cities in Saudi Arabia were Mecca, Medina, and Riyadh.
- The number of hotel rooms in Saudi Arabia increased by 24% in 2019, with a total of 731 new hotels and more than 70,000 rooms added.
- The Red Sea Project, a major tourism development project on the country’s western coast, is expected to attract one million visitors per year when completed.
- The country’s first-ever Formula E race, held in Diriyah in 2018, attracted more than 60,000 visitors.
- The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has identified five key tourism clusters in the country: the Two Holy Mosques, Riyadh and surrounding areas, the Red Sea coast, the Eastern Province, and the Al-Ula region
Most popular tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has a rich cultural and historical heritage, and it is also home to some of the most important religious sites in the world, making it a popular destination for religious tourism. In recent years, the country has also been working to promote its natural beauty and other tourist attractions. Here are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia:
- The Two Holy Mosques – Mecca and Medina: These two cities are the most important religious sites in the Muslim world, and attract millions of pilgrims from around the world each year. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca, but visitors can still explore the city of Medina and visit the Prophet’s Mosque.
- Al-Ula: This ancient city is located in the northwestern part of the country and is home to a number of important archaeological sites, including the ruins of the ancient city of Hegra (also known as Mada’in Saleh), which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
- Jeddah: Located on the Red Sea coast, Jeddah is the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia and is known for its beautiful beaches and historic architecture, including the Al-Balad historic district.
- Riyadh: The capital city of Saudi Arabia is a modern metropolis that offers a mix of traditional and contemporary attractions, including the Kingdom Centre, the Masmak Fortress, and the National Museum.
- The Red Sea Coast: Saudi Arabia’s western coast is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and coral reefs in the world, making it a popular destination for diving and other water sports. Some of the most popular destinations include Yanbu, Jeddah, and the Farasan Islands.
- Edge of the World: Located near Riyadh, the Edge of the World is a stunning natural formation that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding desert landscape.
- Asir Mountains: Located in the southwestern part of the country, the Asir Mountains offer a cooler climate and stunning natural beauty, including waterfalls and lush vegetation.
- Diriyah: Located just outside of Riyadh, Diriyah is an historic village that was once the capital of the First Saudi State. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist destination.
- Al-Ahsa: This eastern province of Saudi Arabia is home to a number of historic sites, including the Al-Qarah Caves, the Al-Hofuf Oasis, and the Jawatha Mosque.
The Empty Quarter: This vast desert region covers much of the southern part of Saudi Arabia and is one of the largest sand deserts in the world. Visitors can explore the desert by camel or 4×4 and experience the unique culture and traditions of the Bedouin people who call this region home.
Most popular types of tourism in Saudi Arabia
- Religious Tourism: As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia is a popular destination for Muslims from around the world who come to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The country also attracts many visitors who come to perform Umrah, which is a non-mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca that can be performed at any time of year.
- Cultural Tourism: Saudi Arabia has a rich cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years. The country is home to many ancient historical sites, such as the Nabatean city of Madain Saleh, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can also explore traditional souks (markets), museums, and other cultural attractions.
- Adventure Tourism: Saudi Arabia has a diverse landscape that includes deserts, mountains, and coastline, making it a great destination for outdoor adventure activities. Popular activities include hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and diving.
- Business Tourism: Saudi Arabia is a major business hub in the Middle East and attracts many visitors who come for business purposes, such as attending conferences and meetings.
- Wellness Tourism: Saudi Arabia is also known for its luxury spas and wellness centres, which offer a range of treatments and services aimed at promoting relaxation and well-being.
These are just a few of the many types of tourism that Saudi Arabia has to offer. With its diverse offerings and rich history, the country is increasingly becoming a popular destination for travellers from around the world.
Economic Impacts of Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Tourism is a rapidly growing industry in Saudi Arabia and is expected to play an increasingly important role in the country’s economy. Here are some of the economic impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia:
- Job Creation: The growth of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia has led to the creation of many new jobs, particularly in sectors such as hospitality, transportation, and retail. According to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the tourism sector is expected to create around 1.2 million jobs by 2030.
- Increased Revenue: Tourism is a significant source of revenue for the Saudi Arabian economy. In 2019, the country’s tourism industry generated over $12 billion in revenue, and this is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
- Infrastructure Development: The development of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia has led to the construction of new hotels, airports, and other infrastructure projects, which not only support tourism but also contribute to the overall development of the country’s economy.
- Increased Foreign Investment: The growth of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia has attracted significant foreign investment, particularly in the hospitality and real estate sectors. This investment helps to create jobs and contributes to the overall economic growth of the country.
- Diversification of the Economy: The development of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia is part of a larger effort to diversify the country’s economy away from its traditional reliance on oil. By developing new industries, such as tourism, the country is working to build a more resilient and sustainable economy for the future.
These are just a few of the many economic impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia. As the industry continues to grow, it is likely to have an increasingly important role in the country’s overall economic development.
Social Impacts of Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Tourism can have both positive and negative social impacts on a destination, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. Here are some of the social impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia:
- Cultural Exchange: Tourism can promote cultural exchange by providing an opportunity for visitors to learn about and experience the local culture and way of life in Saudi Arabia. This can lead to greater understanding and appreciation between different cultures and can help to promote tolerance and respect.
- Employment Opportunities: The tourism industry in Saudi Arabia provides employment opportunities for local residents, which can help to improve their quality of life and contribute to the overall economic development of the country.
- Preservation of Heritage: The development of tourism in Saudi Arabia has led to increased interest in preserving the country’s cultural and historical heritage. This has led to the restoration and conservation of many historic sites, which not only benefits tourists but also the local community.
- Overcrowding and Strain on Infrastructure: The increase in tourism can lead to overcrowding in popular destinations, which can put a strain on local infrastructure and services. This can lead to social problems such as traffic congestion, noise pollution, and increased crime rates.
- Cultural Conflicts: Tourism can sometimes lead to cultural conflicts when visitors do not respect local customs and traditions. For example, the dress code for women in Saudi Arabia is very conservative, and visitors are expected to dress modestly. Failure to do so can cause offence and lead to social tensions.
These are just a few examples of the social impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia. It is important for the tourism industry to be developed in a responsible and sustainable manner to ensure that the positive impacts are maximised, and negative impacts are minimised.
Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Here are some of the environmental impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia:
- Water and Energy Consumption: The tourism industry requires a significant amount of water and energy to operate, particularly in the hospitality sector. This can put a strain on local resources and lead to increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Land Use and Development: The development of tourism infrastructure such as hotels, resorts, and airports can lead to the loss of natural habitats and wildlife. It can also lead to increased pressure on land and water resources, particularly in arid regions such as Saudi Arabia.
- Waste Generation: The tourism industry can generate a significant amount of waste, particularly in the form of plastic waste from single-use items such as water bottles and food packaging. This can lead to increased pollution and damage to the local environment.
- Carbon Footprint: Tourism activities such as air travel can have a significant carbon footprint, contributing to global climate change. This can have long-term environmental impacts on the destination and the world as a whole.
- Damage to Natural and Cultural Sites: The increase in tourism can lead to damage to natural and cultural sites, particularly in areas that are not well managed. This can lead to the degradation of the environment and the loss of cultural heritage.
These are just a few examples of the environmental impacts of tourism in Saudi Arabia. It is important for the tourism industry to be developed in a sustainable and responsible manner to ensure that the negative impacts are minimised, and the positive impacts are maximised.
FAQ’s about tourism in Saudi Arabia
Now that we know a bit more about tourism in Saudi Arabia, lets take a look at some of the most common questions on this topic:
What are the visa requirements for tourists visiting Saudi Arabia?
Tourists must obtain a visa prior to their arrival in Saudi Arabia. The visa application process can be completed online or through a Saudi embassy or consulate in the visitor’s home country.
What is the dress code for tourists in Saudi Arabia?
Tourists, especially women, are expected to dress conservatively in public places. Women are required to wear an abaya, a loose-fitting cloak, while in public. Men are also expected to dress modestly.
What are the most popular tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia?
Some of the most popular tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia include the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh, the historic city of Jeddah, the Al-Ula archaeological site, and the modern city of Riyadh.
What is the official language of Saudi Arabia?
The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic.
Is it safe to travel to Saudi Arabia as a tourist?
Saudi Arabia is considered a safe country for tourists. However, visitors should be aware of the local customs and laws, exercise caution, and remain vigilant.
What is the currency of Saudi Arabia?
The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Riyal (SAR).
Is alcohol allowed in Saudi Arabia?
The consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
What is the best time of year to visit Saudi Arabia?
The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is during the winter months from December to February when the temperatures are cooler.
What is the local cuisine in Saudi Arabia?
The local cuisine in Saudi Arabia is influenced by Middle Eastern and Arab cuisine, and includes dishes such as kebabs, rice-based dishes, and falafel.
What are the transportation options for tourists in Saudi Arabia?
Transportation options for tourists in Saudi Arabia include taxis, buses, and rental cars. However, women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and public transportation is not available in all cities.
To conclude- Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, traditionally revered for its spiritual significance, is embarking on a new chapter as a budding travel destination. As the Kingdom unveils its diverse landscapes and rich history to the global audience, it’s crucial to approach tourism’s evolution with care and insight.
By managing this growth sustainably, Saudi Arabia can showcase its multifaceted heritage, ensuring that its tourism narrative complements its profound cultural and spiritual roots.