Saudis beat tourism growth target

Al Ula, Saudi Arabia. Image © M K / Unsplash
Following the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has grown its tourism offer successfully, with international visitor numbers up 56% in 2023, compared with 2019.

Saudi Arabia has hit a landmark of welcoming 100 million tourists in 2023, as it marches towards its Vision 2030 destination, which will massively transform its economy as it scales up its tourism offer.

The achievement is all the more remarkable as the 100 million visitor target was achieved seven years ahead of its original aspiration. In place of the original target, the country is now aiming to build inbound travel to a figure of 150 million visitors a year, by the end of the decade.

Berlin celebration

Country officials were at the ITB Berlin international hospitality event in early March 2024 to drive forward the campaign, with a delegation led by His Excellency Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism and Chairman of the Saudi Tourism Authority. Speaking at a celebratory reception held during the event, he commented: “This achievement is not merely a number, but a testament to our unwavering commitment, our ability to inspire investment commitments into the tourism sector, and the collaborations made across the Saudi tourism ecosystem as a whole, which has propelled us forward as one of the world’s most dynamic destinations. Our goal is to strengthen Saudi’s position among the top ten nations in the G20 for tourism, as the premier choice for both tourists and investors, a global powerhouse for tourism.” The country has invested over USD800bn into its tourism sector, with USD500m specifically being spent on the development of destinations.

Developments include upgrading the tourism offer in existing cities and destinations, as well as developing entirely new parts of the country. These new destinations exploit the country’s unique geography, and feature exciting architecture – with major global hotel brands lining up to help welcome visitors.

In north west Saudi Arabia, the NEOM sustainable regional development has announced a series of new projects. Epicon, its luxury coastal tourism destination on the Gulf of Aqaba will feature two landmark towers, 225m and 275m tall, while Leyja will deliver a sustainable tourism experience within a natural valley. Also on the Gulf of Aqaba coastline is Siranna, destined to be an exclusive tourism escape, with views across the Red Sea.

Further along the coast, Norlana will be a community of more than 700 homes, with a 120-berth marina serving as an international hub for superyachts. It will also feature an equestrian and polo centre and 18 hole golf course. And Zardun has been planned as a nature-based resort, which will include three boutique hotels. Visitors will be able to enjoy outdoor pursuits including trekking, mountain biking and rock climbing. And for those seeking a wellbeing retreat, there will be Elanan, an 80 room resort.

Signing up the brands

Hotel groups are getting involved. InterContinental Hotels has made a major commitment to expansion in Saudi Arabia. In March 2024, the company signed to launch Regent and InterContinental branded hotels in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. The two properties, totalling 650 rooms, will open in 2027 and will join a Kimpton hotel already well under construction in the same development, due to open later in 2024. Also opening later this year will be voco & Suites Jeddah, with the 110 room new build well under way. In late 2025, it will also open Hotel Indigo Abha, in the heart of the Arabian Highland.

Also building is Accor, which in February signed to operate a Raffles hotel in Trojena, part of the NEOM regional development. The 105 room hotel will open in 2027, indwell be part of the Discover cluster of nature-focused destinations. And luxury brand Aman has committed to five hotels in the country, most recently launching its 42 room resort in Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another major development, the Red Sea project, announced in March 2024 that it had added a Four Seasons Resort and Residences to its roll call of big brands coming to the destination. The 220 room resort will be part of the new AMAALA district. Opening in 2025, it is part of the the Triple Bay masterplan, which will include 12 resorts with a total of close to 2,000 rooms between them. AMAALA itself will extend to 29 hotels when completely developed, as well as around 1,200 luxury homes.