Saudi Arabia has issued more than 400,000 tourist visas since it opened its borders to foreign tourists in late September, the country’s leading tourism representative said on Monday.
This number, which does not include millions of religious pilgrims, drives the challenges of the conservative Islamic kingdom home as it builds a tourism sector from scratch as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic diversification plan. The goal is to record 100 million visits annually by 2030.
“The problem or major challenge is that the infrastructure is nonexistent,” said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Tourism and National Heritage Commission and key advisor to the prince, during an investment conference in Riyadh. “The kingdom is abundant in this sector and has natural treasures that require large investments.”
Until applying for a tourist visa, Saudi Arabia has long been one of the most difficult countries to visit in the world, unless a pilgrimage took place.
There is still a long way to go before it can be compared to the long-established regional objectives. The financial and leisure center Dubai received 16.7 million international guests in 2019. Saudi officials say they need to add more flights and hotel rooms to meet demand if they pursue their goals.