In an historic move, Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international visitors for the first time.
Visitors seeking little-explored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and breathtaking natural beauty will, says the Saudi tourism authority, be “surprised and delighted to discover Saudi Arabia’s many treasures”.
Saudi sites of interest include five UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- Madain Saleh in Al-Ula, the largest conserved site of the civilisation of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan.
- At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah, the first capital of the Saudi state.
- Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, characterised by a distinctive architectural tradition.
- Rock Art in the Hail Region, showing 10,000-year old inscriptions of human and animal figures.
- Al-Ahsa Oasis, with 2.5 million date palms the largest oasis in the world.
Saudi Arabia is home to 13 regions, each with a distinctive cultural tradition. It is also home to flourishing contemporary culture, with highlights that include:
- The King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran
- The modernist sculpture park along the Corniche in Jeddah
- The Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah
- Nassif House in Jeddah’s Historical District
- The annual Flowerman Festival in Asir
- The Winter at Tantora festival in Al-Ula
- The Red Sea International Film Festival launching in March 2020
- Contemporary Saudi cuisine by Ali bin Yousef in Riyadh
- The art of Zahrah Al-Ghamdi, whose work is displayed at this year’s Venice Biennale
Saudi Arabia boasts a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes, including the green mountains of Asir, the crystal waters of the Red Sea, the snow-covered winter plains of Tabuk and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
A number of new tourist destinations are currently under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.
Opening Saudi to tourism is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
Saudi Arabia expects to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating a million jobs.
By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10% towards the Saudi GDP, compared to just 3% today.
Saudi’s airport capacity is expected to increase by 150 million passengers per annum
Billions of dollars are being spent to improve infrastructure and develop heritage, cultural and entertainment sites. Saudi’s airport capacity is expected to increase by 150 million passengers per annum and an additional 500,000 hotel key cards will be needed across the country over the coming decade.
His Excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, commented: “Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country. Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome. Visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.”