Total tourism spending in Saudi Arabia jumped to 154 billion riyals ($41 billion), up 8.8 percent, in 2019, according to a report compiled by Saudi-based paper Saudi Gazette based on official figures Wednesday.
Of this spending, tourists from abroad accounted for just over 65 percent of total spending, at 101 billion riyals, an 8.02 percent increase compared to 93.5 billion riyals in 2018.
This growth is the highest recorded over the last three years, and the highest figure ever for tourist spending in the Kingdom, the Gazette reported.
Driving tourism figures up is a key goal of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan that aims to transform the Kingdom away from its reliance on oil towards a post-hydrocarbon era.
Last year, Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas for the first time. Visas have been available to citizens of 51 countries for a 440 riyal fee. Tourists can apply for the 90-day visas online or upon arrival.
In 2019, according to the Gazette’s report, 16.48 million tourism trips took place in the Kingdom, a 7.6 percent increase over the 15.3 million reported in 2018. Gulf countries represented the bulk of tourists, at 37.7 percent, followed by South Asian countries, 16.7 percent, and Middle East countries, 14.7 percent.
The vast majority of spending by tourists, 73.2 percent, was for religious purposes, followed by 18.2 percent for business and conference purposes.
Saudi Arabia has been working towards revamping its tourism and entertainment sectors by promoting its coastline and UNESCO-recognized heritage sites.
The Red Sea Project is also a much-anticipated tourist destination being developed in the Kingdom, where the ultra-luxurious and sustainable development is set to host resorts on 50 islands off the coast of the Red Sea. It will also be accessible by 80 percent of the world’s population in less than eight hours.
A mega-theme park is also being developed, known as Qiddiyah, an hour’s drive from Riyadh. It expects to attract 1.5 million visitors each year when the first phase opens in 2022.