Saudi Arabia travel demand at record high ahead of summer campaign, tourism chief says

International traveler interest in Saudi Arabia is at a record high, a senior official has said.

Demand from around the world has been growing every year, said Fahd Hamidaddin, chief executive of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

“We’ve never hit three million visitors a month in the history of Saudi Arabia, but in January we did,” Mr Hamidaddin told The National on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Tuesday.

“And again in February, and then again in March – all exceeded three million inbound visits, it has been a record quarter.”

The tourism chief was using the kingdom’s representation at the Middle East’s largest travel and tourism exhibition in Dubai to promote a new campaign, Summer in Saudi Arabia.

The campaign will officially launch next week and is focusing on destinations across the kingdom that are ideal for visiting in the hotter months of the year.

It highlights mountain regions including Aseer and Taif, as well as the Red Sea, Al Baha Province with its green forests and the busy events calendar across Riyadh and Jeddah.

“Summer is about to start and when the rest of the region is boiling hot, including Saudi Arabia where it reaches the high 40s if not the 50s, the Arabian Highlands of the south are fantastic destinations. “There, the temperature is in the mid-20s and sometimes there is summer rain,” said Mr Hamiddadin.

Situated in Saudi Arabia’s southwest, Aseer is gearing up for its biggest influx of summer travelers.

“We’re expecting significant inbound travel to Aseer like we’ve never had before. “Looking a the past three years, there’s been a growing number of inbound visitors, but we never had international seasonal summer flights before – we’re doing it this year,” said the chief executive.

Famed for its nature and being home to the tallest mountain in the kingdom, Aseer has also been listed by Unesco as one of the world’s best tourism villages, something that Mr Hamidaddin believes is a testament to the authenticity of the destination.

“The beauty of Aseer is that it still preserves village life, and it has live culture and heritage – it’s not a museum, it’s an open-live museum and it ticks all the boxes, whether for a mountain getaway, a family escape or a short getaway.”

World’s largest water park to open in Saudi Arabia in 2025

Away from the highlands, Saudi Arabia continues to add to its tourism offerings.

“We are already clearly investing in a very diverse portfolio to ensure that Saudi is a year-long destination and that there is something for all incomes. “We have the luxury destinations, we have the mid-income destinations, we have the mass-offerings like Qiddiya,” said Mr Hamiddadin.

Only 40 minutes from Riyadh, Qiddiya has been making its own headlines at the Arabian Travel Market, after announcing Aquarabia – the world’s largest water park, which will open in the entertainment city in 2025.

There will be four record-breaking rides among its 22 attractions, including the world’s tallest watercoaster and water slide.

“We are focusing on growing everywhere,” said Mr Hamidaddin.

“We are the home of Arabia and, between mountains, the sea and desert dunes, there is a lot to offer travelers with everything from stargazing to well-being.”

Several companies have signed contracts to set up well-being resorts in the south of Saudi Arabia, he added.

“I can’t mention names as they will make their own announcements but they’ve taken their land and properties and I’m referring to international wellness destinations that many Saudis use to fly to in Europe, that are now setting up shop in Saudi Arabia,” Mr Hamidaddin said.

Having already exceeded its initial target for tourism numbers by welcoming over 100 million visitors, Saudi Arabia’s revised target of 150 million visits from both international and domestic tourists by 2030 reflects the level of ambition, the tourism chief said.

Reaching this target will likely come down to visits from travelers heading to the kingdom for some of the giga projects that continue to develop across Saudi Arabia.

From the futuristic city of Neom which will be home to the Middle East’s first winter mountain sports destination, to the Red Sea, where Nujuma, a Ritz-Cartlon Reserve, will welcome guests later this month when it opens as the kingdom’s most expensive hotel, the width and breath of the country’s tourism offerings is unparalleled.

And for Mr Hamidaddin, it is the Unesco World Heritage Site of AlUla – famous for showcasing some 200,000 years of human history, that captured his heart.

“I enjoy AlUla like no tomorrow. I love it,” he said.

“And the reason why I like it so much and why I’ve been to it several times is because the development does not come at the cost of nature whatsoever. You see so many new brands coming, new hotels and luxury resorts – but the loudest voice in AlUla remains nature’s.”

Updated: May 08, 2024, 10:56 AM