Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector has seen a 121% increase from pre-pandemic levels, supported by its emergent but booming cruise sector.
According to the UNWTO Tourism Barometer, Saudi Arabia is now set to be the fastest-growing tourism destination in the G20.
The Saudi Tourism Authority said in a statement that its rapid pandemic recovery was driven by the rapid roll out of vaccines so that COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted.
The lifting of these restrictions also supported the country’s efforts to host its first ever domestic cruise season, with MSC Bellissima sailing roundtrip from Jeddah on a variety of Red Sea cruises.
MSC Cruises said the season was extremely popular with the domestic and international cruise market, with local Saudi passengers making up around 50% of demand for the full season.
“Saudi opened to the world in September 2019 and through continued leadership and commitment, we have made incomparable progress toward realising our ambitious Vision 2030 tourism goals,” said Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister of Tourism and Chairman of Saudi Tourism Authority.
“We are invested in a sustainable future for tourism, and today I am proud of Saudi’s position as the fastest growing tourism destination in the G20,” he added.
International tourist arrivals nearly tripled from January to July 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, according to the UNWTO Tourism Barometer. This means that the sector has recovered to nearly 60% of its pre-pandemic levels.
Tourism is key to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to have the tourism industry make up 10% of the country’s GDP by 2030, with the creation of over one million jobs in the coming years.
In an effort to capitalise on international and domestic interest in cruises from and to Saudi Arabia, Cruise Saudi, the government agency charged with growing the cruise industry locally, has been investing heavily in cruise infrastructure.
Cruise Saudi is planning to develop cruise infrastructure at two ports in the south of the country in the coming years, Duba and Jizan, as well as Dammam and Jeddah. In Jeddah, a new cruise terminal is being built to host ships even larger than MSC Bellissima.