The conservative oil kingdom may not be in the top of your holiday destination list, but a young price of Saudi Arabia is gaining confidence to reform their agenda and focus on tourism. So the kingdom which is a home to numerous unsung archaeological sites, pristine beaches and ancient desert culture is definitely a perfect addition to your bucket list.
Like other Middle Eastern nations that have depended on oil, Saudi Arabia is looking for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and tourism is one of the country’s number-one targets. That’s right, the conservative oil kingdom is getting ready to open up for tourists. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos in January, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih surprised the audience at one event with the words: “We are going to turn Saudi Arabia into a softer, more pleasant place to live.” Change seems increasingly desired in this young, restless country.
One of the ways the Saudi government is planning to do this is by boosting the tourism sector, adding to the Kingdom’s appeal as a place to visit, and as a place for Saudi citizens to spend their vacations, rather than traveling abroad. Tourism is already a vital component of the Saudi economy, contributing around SR244 billion ($65 billion) in 2016, or around 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to a recent report from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). But the income mainly comes from pilgrims of Hajj and Umrah and now the government wants to boost it up and attract tourists.
Prince Sultan has been preaching tourism’s benefits since his commission was created 17 years ago and has forged partnerships with other ministries, local officials, international investors and world tourism groups, instituting everything from tour-guide licensing to laws for preserving antiquities. What’s different now is Vision 2030, the blueprint laid out last year to revolutionize the economy. The steep drop in oil prices that hit the kingdom nearly three years ago led to budget deficits and kick-started plans to develop non-oil sectors such as mining and tourism.
Recently, the King Abdul Aziz camel festival drew more than 60,000 visitors to the country, according to a recent article in the independent. It features auctions, cultural shows, a museum and more and next year’s plans call for races and “baby camel tipping”. So look no further than the skylines of Riyadh, Mecca, Jeddah and Al Khobar where an enormous amount of hotel construction is currently under way and the country is cozying up.