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Saudis spent SR54 billion ($14.4 billion) on foreign travel last year
Jeddah, Sept 02,2001

 Saudis spent SR54 billion ($14.4 billion) on foreign travel last year, according to Prince Sultan ibn Salman, secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism. During the same year, the Kingdom made revenues worth SR6.75 billion ($1.8 billion) from tourism, the prince said, quoting a report of the World Council for Travel and Tourism.

Prince Sultan revealed these significant data while presenting a paper at a seminar on the “Economic Impact of Tourism in Saudi Arabia” held in the southern tourist resort of Abha recently.

“Some sources indicate that Saudi tourists spent over 100 million nights abroad in 4.4 million trips during the year 2000. On an average, each night cost them $135, bringing the total spending to about $14.4 billion,” he explained.

He said the number of tourists coming to the Kingdom soared remarkably in the last decade. It jumped from 2.582 million in 1992 to 4.8 million in 1999, registering an annual growth of between four and 23.3 percent. The Kingdom’s revenues from tourism increased from SR3.8 billion in 1992 to SR6.1 billion in 1999 and SR6.75 billion last year.

Saudi Arabia has taken effective steps to boost domestic tourism and reduce the deficit in the tourism balance of payment which is now estimated at SR47.25 billion ($12.6 billion).

In addition to the establishment of an independent body to encourage domestic tourism, the government has started issuing tourist visas allowing foreigners to visit historical places, museums and antiquities in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Sultan said the commission is preparing a comprehensive tourism plan to ensure continuous development of the industry without reneging on the country’s culture, traditions and environment.

The tourism sector will be developed by providing conducive investment opportunities to the private sector, revising regulations, training Saudis to take up related jobs and making use of the media to encourage domestic travel.

The new plan, Prince Sultan said, aims at diversifying the country’s revenue sources, increasing the gross domestic product and creating job opportunities for burgeoning population.

Promoting small-scale and alternative ventures and development of heritage and traditional industries are among other goals of the plan.

Prince Sultan underscored the government’s plan to make Saudi Arabia a leader in global tourism. This involves many incumbent tasks such as the assessment of the country’s tourism resources as well as the local market requirements, enforcement of new laws to ensure quality, training Saudi manpower and enacting new regulations to facilitate investment.

Prince Sultan said the private sector could play an important role in promoting tourism in the country in the light of its strong capabilities, vast experience and large-scale potentials.

The private capital in the Kingdom increased from 53.9 percent of the total investment in the country in 1989 to 64 percent in 1999.

The private sector can provide state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure facilities such as hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and recreation centers.

The tourism commission expects that the Kingdom will be able to reduce Saudi spending on tourism abroad by a minimum of 10 percent and a maximum of 25 percent in the initial stage of the plan’s execution.

The commission also estimates that the tourism industry’s contribution to the GDP will reach 7.3 percent and will account for 6.5 percent of the total employment opportunities in the country.

At present, a little over 12,500 people are employed in the hotel industry, and only 7 percent of them are Saudis. Prince Sultan expects that new investment in the sector will create at least 164,000 jobs for Saudis.

Domestic tourism will also generate business for hotels and furnished villas, and will consequently attract more capital into the real estate projects. Influx of foreign tourists may also lead to creation of private aviation companies and construction of new rail networks to ease movement within the Kingdom.

“Growth in tourism traffic will raise the income of the communications sector by 20 percent, housing sector by 25 percent, trade 12 percent and restaurants 15 percent,” Prince Sultan said in his paper.

Recently released statistics show that tourism contributes about 10 percent of the gross domestic product globally.

“Tourism is the largest contributor to the non-oil GDP in many countries,” Prince Sultan said. It also helps many governments to maintain their balance of payment position. International turnover from tourism was estimated at $476 billion last year.

Tourism is a major source of employment worldwide. Statistics show that the tourist sector accommodates more than 192 million people, of whom 73 million are directly involved in the industry. Statistics also indicate that employment opportunities in the sector are growing, compared with other sectors where opportunities are receding.

Prince Sultan said tourism plays an important role in boosting progress of a country and welfare of its people indirectly as it encourages investment in infrastructure projects such as airports, seaports, roads, and sewage and water distribution systems.

It also contributes to the development of rural areas. Tourism offers an important source of income for the government, in terms of taxes and entrance fees to museums and public gardens.

Source: © Arab News

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