Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Mon May 09 2016

Saudi Arabia Has Vision for Tourism

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | May 09, 2016

Saudi Arabia Has Vision for Tourism

PHOTO: Hotels line a busy street in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy Basil D Soufi, Wikimedia)

Saudi Arabia has revealed its plans for future tourism, highlighted among them the notion that the country aims to rely less on oil and more on increasing visitor numbers for future revenue as the world shifts to less oil-reliant forms of fuel.

Currently, the government employs nearly 70 percent of Saudis and, as oil prices fall, the country is less able to support the subsidies, wages and infrastructure projects that are currently providing for its people.

In its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia notes that it wants to showcase its rich cultural heritage, ancient archaeological sites and vast landscapes of mountains, coastline, valleys, volcanoes and deserts.

The plan states that: “We will continue to work on the restoration of national, Arab, Islamic and ancient cultural sites and strive to have them registered internationally to make them accessible to everyone and, in the process, create cultural events and build world-class museums which will attract visitors from near and far. This will create a living witness to our ancient heritage, showcasing our prominent place in history and on the map of civilizations.”

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Prince Sultan bin Salman said in an interview with the Associated Press: "It is open for people who are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes. And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.”

In order to boost tourism, the Vision 2030 plan calls for an increase in the number of Saudis employed in the tourism sector. Current figures show that approximately 245,000 are working in the industry and the plan is to boost those numbers to 352,000 by 2020.

Saudi Arabia already has a built-in tourism market should it decide to tap into it. Already, 8 million Muslims from around the world visit the country on pilgrimages. Allowing them to stay on as tourists and travel in the country is just one way the country could boost its visitor numbers and tourism revenue.

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According to the Vision 2030 plan, making a pilgrimage easier is a top priority.

“By increasing the capacity and by improving the quality of the services offered to Umrah visitors, we will, by 2020, make it possible for more than 15 million Muslims per year to perform Umrah and be completely satisfied with their pilgrimage experience,” says the plan.”We will achieve this by improving visa application procedures which will smooth the visa process with the aim of full automation. We will also further integrate e-services into the pilgrims’ journey, which will enrich the religious and cultural experience. Both the public and private sectors will play a crucial role in this project as we work to upgrade accommodation, improve hospitality and launch new services for pilgrims.”

Saudi Arabia’s goal in the scope of the plan is to welcome 30 million Umrah visitors each year and to more than double the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites within the country. The plan also calls for the construction of the largest Islamic museum to be built in Madinah, where the first Islamic society was born.

The Vision 2030 plan also calls for the building of infrastructure within Saudi cities, meaningful entertainment for its citizens, the development of a “vibrant society with strong foundations,” empowerment, equal opportunities and more.

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