RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector experienced a remarkable surge in 2023, underscoring the Kingdom’s dedication to becoming a global travel hub. Key contributors, such as Almosafer Travel Company and the Ministry of Tourism, have been instrumental in fueling growth, showcasing impressive statistics and forward-looking plans.
As the Kingdom aims to establish itself as a top tourist destination, it has skillfully overcome challenges, marking significant recovery and contributions to the global tourism landscape.
Almosafer, a leading entity within the Seera Group in Saudi Arabia’s travel industry, reported notable growth in domestic tourism for 2023. During the Saudi Tourism Forum 2024, the company revealed that domestic tourism accounted for over 40 percent of all bookings, with a staggering 83 percent of local travelers preferring luxury accommodations. The average stay was two nights, leading to a 22 percent increase in annual hotel room nights compared to 2022.
Popular Destinations and Booking Trends
Almosafer’s report on local travel trends spotlighted AlUla as a premium choice, Jazan and Tabuk as preferred winter retreats, and Abha as a popular summer destination for families. Cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Mecca, and Medina continued to draw significant interest in terms of room nights sold.
Despite around 75 percent of travelers opting for budget airlines, there was a 10.8 percent rise in the average order value in 2023, indicating that Saudi travelers are investing more in accommodations and experiences, valuing quality over cost. The alternative accommodation sector also saw a 48 percent increase in short-term rental bookings from the previous year.
Muzammil Ahsain, CEO of Almosafer, highlighted the growing demand for domestic tourism, pointing out Saudi Arabia’s appeal to local travelers with its varied landscapes, cultural depth, entertainment options, and unique adventures.
Saudi Tourism Minister’s Vision for the Future
Ahmed bin Aqeel Al-Khatib, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism, reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to expanding its tourism sector and attracting investments. Speaking at the Real Estate Future Forum, he set an ambitious goal to welcome 150 million visitors by 2030, aiming for the tourism sector to contribute 750 billion riyals to the national economy.
The Minister highlighted the superior quality of upcoming hospitality projects, stressing the signing of multiple agreements for significant hotels. He also mentioned the closure of facilities without licenses or those providing subpar services, showcasing the government’s commitment to enhancing service standards.
Furthermore, the Minister emphasized the vital role of the local workforce in the tourism sector, underlining the considerable interest among Saudi citizens to work in this expanding field.
Saudi Arabia’s Global Tourism Impact
The World Tourism Organization’s January 2024 Barometer report spotlighted Saudi Arabia’s standout performance on the global tourism stage. In 2023, the Kingdom saw a 156 percent recovery in tourist arrivals compared to 2019, leading the Middle East in the global tourism recovery race. It was the only region to exceed pre-pandemic figures, with a 122 percent recovery rate in 2023.
Global tourism in 2023 reached 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with about 1.3 billion international arrivals and tourism revenues nearing US$1.3 trillion, approximately 93 percent of 2019’s totals. The World Tourism Organization anticipates a complete recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2024, forecasting a 2 percent growth over 2019.
Saudi Arabia significantly contributed to global tourism growth, leading G20 countries in the growth rate of arriving tourists in 2023 and ranking as the second fastest-growing tourist destination worldwide for the first three quarters.
The Kingdom’s diverse tourist destinations witnessed an influx of visitors, breaking new spending records for international visitors, which exceeded 100 billion riyals in the first three quarters of 2023.
Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector’s remarkable ascent in 2023 heralds a new chapter for the Kingdom as a leading global travel destination. With its emphasis on domestic tourism, commitment to high-quality hospitality projects, and strategic positioning on the global stage, Saudi Arabia is not just rebounding from the pandemic’s effects but is also at the forefront of shaping the future of international tourism.