Saudi Arabia ‘leads’ the Mideast travel market

Saudi Arabia’s travel sector is also influenced by the ever-increasing number of seasonal travelers from across the globe during Umrah and hajj

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A young and rapidly expanding population will be the key travel driver in the Gulf region. With 28 million residents, Saudi Arabia is the most populous of the lot and will constitute nearly 60 percent of the GCC population in 2030, while the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait will add more than a third to their population during the same period, according to a new study.

Presenting the latest Amadeus-commissioned report titled “Shaping the Future of Travel in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)” to the local media on Monday, Nashat Bukhari, General Manager, Amadeus Saudi Arabia, said: “Saudi Arabia currently leads the Middle East market in terms of domestic and international air travel volume, and will continue to do so, primarily because of its youth-driven demographics, high level of smart device penetration, and diversification of economy. Saudi is using its hydrocarbon revenues to drive strategic infrastructural growth, a fact that is expected to trigger unprecedented growth in the region’s seasonal and corporate travel sector.”

According to the study, Saudi Arabia’s travel sector is also influenced by the ever-increasing number of seasonal travelers from across the globe during umrah and hajj. Apart from this, inflow of non-GCC nationals into Saudi Arabia is mostly restricted to business and family visits as there is no provision for tourism visas currently.

“We believe that Saudi Arabia is poised to enter a new era of highly educated and connected youth, developed cities, new and exotic business and leisure destinations, and a new vision of leadership. We are keen to see the transition that is expected to take place in the country over the next fifteen years, as well as its impact on the travel sector of the region,” added Bukhari.

The study additionally revealed nation-specific information on these ‘engines of change’ or ‘effects’ which are classified under five large heads: the population effect, the ‘beyond oil’ effect, the infrastructure effect, the gateway effect and the information effect.

The importance of social media within the travel industry has significantly increased in the past five years and will continue to be a dominant factor, he continued “Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has already registered a significant rise in online travel booking, expedited by the Arabisation of website content, he added.

This is particularly relevant given that Internet penetration in the country stands at 49.7 percent of the population. Saudi Arabia has made history in mobile internet penetration as well, with smart device sales exceeding that of desktops and laptops.”

He further said “travelers in the region are using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to update friends and families regarding destinations and activities, both for business and leisure travel. Indications from the region demonstrate that travelers will increasingly rely on social interaction and referrals to make travel decisions. Advances in search and mobile technologies will greatly facilitate the traveler to find the product of choice, enjoy seamless border control, undertake remote hotel check-in, and make restaurant reservations and payment.”

He explained that the average Internet penetration in the Middle East is higher than the world average. Within Middle East, particularly in the GCC, the population have access to better digital technology and infrastructure.

He pointed out that apart from the recent spurt in construction activity and the region’s dependence on external skills, the strong linkages, and low barriers between the GCC countries have seen a steady flow of intra-regional travelers within the region, expected to witness a near four-fold increase by 2030.

“The increase in overall population and the entry of first-time travelers will see this segment growing strongly, characterized by short-haul trips and weekend travel. This will be aided by increasing connectivity and further liberalization of processes. For instance, the KSA may soon drop its barriers to the GCC residents resulting in a greater number of travelers to other parts of the Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is in ongoing discussions with other government entities to simplify visa entry to the UAE by reducing the number of categories, decreasing price points, and increasing the length of stay and its validity,” he said.

The general manager of Amadeus Saudi Arabia noted that Saudi Arabia’s aggressive economic transformation strategies will act as key drivers of travel industry trends in the region over the next fifteen years.

He said “among the key factors analyzed in the report were Saudi’s evolving ‘Cities of the Future’, the six new cities that are being developed across the country. Backed by an impressive list of new universities, colleges and training institutes, these multiple economic cities are expected to lay the foundation for industrialization through a knowledge based economy, inviting extensive private investment.”

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Oct, 14, 2014.

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