authorities expect revenue from the tourism sector to double this year
compared to previous years. Senior tourism officials interviewed by
the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA said they expected millions of people
from Arab and Muslim countries to visit Saudi Arabia after the
introduction of the new Umrah system.
The new regulations
allow travel agents to bring in visitors and pilgrims throughout the
year unlike previous years when Umrah visas were issued during a
specific period of the year. Under the new system, pilgrims can visit
places of interest outside the two holy cites of Makkah and Madinah
though under certain controls.
The officials said
the new measures would help stimulate internal tourism as well as
trade activities in all regions of the country.
The Kingdom expects
internal tourism to generate around SR25 billion ($6.66 billion)
annually in the coming years. It also hopes that the tourism sector
will create thousands of jobs for Saudi youths. The unemployment rate
in the country currently stands at 20 percent, according to the latest
A study by the
United Nations and the World Bank showed that population growth in
Saudi Arabia stands at four percent. The study expected the Saudi
population to reach 30 million by the year 2010 and more than 47
million by 2020.
In April last year,
Saudi Arabia set up a national agency to promote domestic tourism.
Chaired by Prince Sultan, second deputy prime minister and minister of
defense and aviation, the Higher Tourism Authority is entrusted with
developing the tourism industry by implementing studies carried out by
experts. The authority is also developing archaeological sites and
monuments in the country and is organizing a number of seminars on
The Gulf Exhibition
2001, currently under way in Jeddah with the participation of 100
companies from 24 countries, comes as part of moves to encourage
investment in the tourism sector.
authorities in Jeddah, Taif, Asir, Baha and Dammam are making
preparations to host tourism promotion programs for the summer. Last
year, more than 700,000 tourists visited the southwestern Asir region
and spent around SR2 billion.
According to a
study released by the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and
Industry, 47 percent of Saudis spend their holidays in non-Arab
countries, 29 percent in Arab countries and 24 percent inside the
Kingdom. Visitors to Saudi Arabia, mostly pilgrims, spent SR5.3
billion last year.
already has a well-developed tourism infrastructure. The country has
7,068 tourist facilities including major hotels. It has built 3,354
public parks covering a total area of 44.6 million square meters.
There are 22 regional and four international airports in the country.
The road network stretches over 36,581 kilometers. Stiff competition
from other tourist destinations in the region and problems in
financing tourist projects are some of the major challenges facing the
Saudi tourism sector.
countries’ share of international tourism stands at two percent,
against 70 percent for Europe, according to estimates published by the
International Tourism Organization.