Saudi Arabia will increase the 100 million visitor target it set as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 programme.

The number was first set in 2016 when the Vision was first announced, however, in 2022, the Kingdom welcomed 77 million domestic travellers and 16.5 million international, adding up to 93.5 million.

Dubai, the region’s long standing tourism leader, has 14.5 million international visitors in 2022.

As the 100 million mark was almost reached eight years ahead of schedule, Saudi Tourism Authority’s (STA) CEO Fahd Hamidaddin said the goal post will move.

He told journalists at Arabian Travel Market: “The target is too low and it will increase,” he said: “Today, that target no longer works. From the very get-go, domestic tourism was always part of that target. At the time it was set, we had no idea just how strong domestic tourism would respond. We all thought numbers would drop after Covid, but it has only grown.

“Domestic audiences, a few years ago, didn’t realise they had all of this on their front doorstep. They used to focus on Jeddah and Riyadh but now people are more adventurous. That will happen as well with international visitors.”

Hamidaddin said he would like 60 percent of tourism to come from international visits.

Saudi Arabia is planning a major expansion of its hospitality sector, which will add up to 315,000 hotel rooms by 2030, according to reports by global property consultancy, Knight Frank. In its report, Knight Frank states that this growth will result in a hotel room inventory greater than the current 140,000 hotel rooms available in Dubai.

Responding to a question as to whether KSA is oversupplied with rooms in the short-term, Hamidaddin said: “My problem today is a shortage of airlift and accommodation. We’re not going to face the issue of oversupply based on the pace we’re seeing right now.”

According to Knight Frank, the rapid expansion of hospitality-linked offerings across the country acts as a significant factor in boosting domestic tourism, which it forecasts will form a key part of the future of the Kingdom’s hospitality landscape.

To cater to this increasingly important segment of the market, the industry will need to think broader and incorporate the likes of luxury glamping sites and youth hostels. Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s major tourist markets, with giga projects like NEOM leading the supply pipeline.

Turning point for Kingdom and its job market
Responding to a question on the rise of luxury in KSA and how that supply will impact the industry, Hamidaddin said the pandemic was a turning point to showcase KSA’s new luxury supply.

“We were blessed with Covid”, the STA chief said. “People discovered Saudi by force and then discovered it by choice. Wealthy travellers, yacht and jet owners, had few options during Covid, and came to Saudi.”

One in every five new jobs come from tourism globally in the past decade, Hamidaddin reminded the table, citing data from WTTC. In the next decade, this will be one in four jobs.

“While so many sectors are losing to machines, tourism is not. We are doing tourism for our people and our economy.

“The world in the 1920s came to Saudi for oil, now the world will come in the 2020s for tourism. Tourism is the new oil.”

Source: Hotelier Middle East

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