I know some of you have doubts about how serious our change and plans are going, please put us to the test, said Haifa Al Saud, Deputy Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia. She is a princess of the Saudi royal family and one of the voices to explain this country’s commitment to Tourism. Between 2020 and 2022 the number of visitors has grown by 120%. There are 26 million and they aspire to reach 100 million in the next decade. They want to build half a million hotel rooms and make Tourism exceed 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Currently it is less than 3 percent. In private investment they have tied up 11,000 million dollars for 2023 and they believe that they will be able to maintain or exceed that figure for more than a decade. Public investment will reach a trillion dollars, this includes the construction of the largest airport in the world in Riyadh, designed by Norman Foster’s office (yes, the same as the No Nato airport in Texcoco) and the development of a ski resort on the mountains in the north of the country. The bet includes the production of Mega-events, such as an F1 Grand Prix, art fairs; film festivals; golf and tennis tournaments.
The Megaevents will be one of the great detonators of tourism and one of the battlefields between destinations, for that, Saudi Arabia has created a Ministry of Entertainment. When the Vice Minister of Tourism talks about putting change to the test, you have to know that a decade ago in this country concerts and film screenings were not allowed.
The Mexican Gloria Guevara Manzo is one of the minds behind the Saudi tourism project. She was Secretary of Tourism in the Government of Felipe Calderón and later held the Presidency of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC, for its acronym in English). She is a special adviser to the Government and through her experience she has the possibility to put the actions of Saudi Arabia in a global perspective: “I don’t know of a country that has made such a strong commitment to Tourism: the amount that they have committed only for this sector is equivalent to Mexico’s GDP. One of the most important aspects is the commitment to train people: they have proposed to educate, train and train more than 100,000 people a year, because they plan to create 100,000 jobs a year”.
The construction of the King Salman airport in Riyadh is complemented by a policy of support for all airlines that open flights to Saudi Arabia. The goal is to multiply by three in a decade the number of visitors arriving by air. There will be public funds to subsidize the operation of these flights, until the airlines break even.
Saudi Arabia is one of the last destinations in the world that is opening up to international tourists (North Korea remains). It has the advantage of its geographical location, since the Persian Gulf is the region of the world that is growing the most. At this time, tourists go to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia’s offering includes Diriyah, a reconstructed 18th century city where the history of the Royal House of Al Saud unfolds and you can see what life was like in the 18th century.
The idealized past is complemented with a window to the future. The Line is a futuristic urban planning project that will be in the north of Saudi Arabia. With a layout 170 kilometers long by 240 meters wide, it aims to be a city where nine million people will live in an urbanization designed by some of the world’s leading architectural firms. It will cover three regions, one facing the Red Sea; another in the mountains and the third in a valley. The investment is hundreds of billions of dollars in various stages. If the plans are fulfilled, the population will arrive from other parts of the world to work in service sectors with high added value. “This is almost Science Fiction, if there are projects to live on other planets, why not make a project to live on Earth”, says one of the Saudi government officials.