With $11.6 billion worth of tourism projects currently underway in the country, the strength of Saudi Arabia’s tourist industry is set to go from strength-to-strength, as the country looks towards building on its existing domestic and religious visitor market, which currently totals around $45.3 billion annually.
According to recently published data, Saudi Arabia is capitalising on both existing and new business and leisure opportunities with 55 planned or already under-development projects, including four museums/libraries, 39 hotels and resorts, one mall, seven sports stadia/leisure complexes, two theme parks and two convention centres. The country’s top 10 projects, on which work is already underway are valued at just under $11.6 billion. They cover a wide range of tourism-related activities from a $4,400 million investment by Saudi Aramco into 11 sports stadiums to the next three phases of the Jabal Omar mega development in Makkah,which, upon completion in 2017, will have 40 hotel towers.
Other high profile projects include the $533 million MKEC Visitor complex, the $450 million Hilton Riyadh Hotel & Resort and the $500 million Millennium Jeddah.
An announcement late last year by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities detailed new simplified regulations for the issuance of tourist visas which, once the proposal achieves final approval, is expected to give an additional boost to the sector.
Industry experts put the value of the Saudi tourism and travel market at around
$45.3 billion (SAR170 billion) in 2014, of which $18.7 billion (SAR70 billion) was generated from domestic tourism and almost $27 billion (SAR100 billion) from religious and other incoming tourism.
Looking at what the country has to offer, Nadege Noblet, Exhibition Manager of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) commented “The country has a number of important historical sites and places of natural beauty that could be a magnet for tourists from around the world, such as the ruins of Madain Saleh, a Unesco World Heritage site,
the stunning Farasan Islands,
the mountain city of Taif and Jeddah’s restored old quarter.”
Saudi tourists embrace technology at home and on the move
New research released by YouGov in the Travel Oracle – KSA Highlights report shows that good weather(39%), reasonable cost(38%) and family friendly destination (34%) are the top three criteria for Saudi travellers when selecting a vacation.
When looking to travel abroad, the most popular destinations in the Middle East are currently the UAE (visited by one in five Saudis), followed by Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
Saudi travellers have a mixed accommodation preference with one-third choosing to stay at budget hotels, 25% staying at luxury hotels, and a further third one-third opting for serviced apartments when traveling for leisure. One-fifth of the total number of respondents (22%) also reported going on a cruise holiday as their most recent trip.
The YouGov report also highlighted that nearly two-fifths of Saudi residents (38%) book their flights through online travel agents compared to the overall MENA average of 28%. For hotels, online travel agents are also the most popular booking method at 22%, followed by travel booking websites with 17% and direct offline bookings at 17%. YouGov notes that 37% who booked their leisure trips online in the last 12 months listed the top reasons for booking online as cheaper prices compared to offline rates (43%), availability of more options (40%) and availability of special/preferential rates (36%). Once at their destination, leisure travellers from Saudi Arabia are also more likely than other MENA residents to travel with, and rely on, smartphones to upload photos and video, play games, check emails and access social media.