It’s official. Saudi Arabia is the UAE’s biggest rival in tourism. The kingdom, whose visitors were once restricted to Muslims performing Hajj, has just opened up its borders to international tourists.
The Kingdom made the announcement in Russia this week at the World Tourism Organisation’s meeting. It might be huge news, but the move comes as no surprise. Saudi Arabia has been making an immense effort over the last year to support the growth of its culture and tourism sectors.
Alongside lifting multiple bans that now allow women to drive, as well as the expansion of the film industry, the conservative kingdom hosted a number of concerts and festivals over the last few months. Which saw the likes of Janet Jackson and 50 Cent take to the stage in Jeddah, with attendees granted visas in less than three minutes.
With largely untapped historical desert sites and secret islands, the nation is full of breath-taking places to visit – and the Saudi Arabian government has made it their mission to make them international tourist destinations.
Amaala, which has been dubbed the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’, is one of the kingdom’s mega-projects and includes plans for luxury hotels, private villas, a yacht club, and (of course) its own airport.
And in a bid to increase the country’s creative output, Saudi Arabia’s recently appointed Culture Minister, Prince Badr Bin Abdullah bin Farhan announced plans last March to extend residency visas to international artists, allowing them to live in the previously closed-off nation.
If things go according to plan, tourism will make up to 10.4 per cent of the nation’s income in 2029, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a 1.4 per cent spike from 2018.
“It is rare that a nation undergoes a massive revival of its culture, and that is exactly what is happening,” Bin Farhan said in a statement last March.
And by the looks of it, the cultural revival is finally here, and tourists from across the world will be able to witness it all. As for its neighbouring country, the UAE, it looks like Saudi Arabia might just be stealing some of its limelight.