10/08/2022, 18.15
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Saudi Arabia is the top Arab tourist destination with more than 18 million visitors so far in 2022

From sports to religious tourism, as part of its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia wants to boost the industry so that it generates 10 per cent of GDP and creates a million new jobs. The second most visited Arab country is the United Arab Emirates with 14.8 million visitors, followed by Morocco with 11 million.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia is the leading tourist destination among Arab countries.

According to the latest report by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), more than 18 million visitors entered the country in the first nine months of 2022.

In recent years, the kingdom has increased investments in the industry, focusing on sports, like the recent Formula 1 race in Riyadh and the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Neom, a planned city of the future that has attracted criticism from environmental and human rights groups.

According to WTO figures, the second most visited country after Saudi Arabia is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 14.8 million tourists, followed by Morocco (11 million), and Syria (8.5 million). For Syria, tourism is key to refurbish the country’s image and breathe new life into its economy, brought to its knees by war and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next in line among the top ten are Tunisia (5.7 million), Egypt (5.2 million), Bahrain (4.3 million), Jordan (3.5 million), 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar (2.9 million), Oman (2.3 million).

In the second tier, we find  Algeria (2 million), Lebanon (1.6 million), Iraq (1.5 million), Yemen (1 million), Sudan (800,000 ),Palestine (400,000), and in last place, Kuwait (203,000).

For Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tourism is a major part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030, designed to reduce the kingdom dependence on oil. The goal is to reach 100 million visitors by 2030 through investments in the leisure and entertainment industry.

Recent reforms, especially since 2019, have also affected Saudi society, with new rights granted to women, such as the right to drive a car and attend (with restrictions) stadiums. Likewise, efforts are underway to boost the cultural industry and reform the religious sphere.

However, several shadows have been cast over the reform process, such as the arrests of senior officials and businessmen, the crackdown on activists and critical voices, not to mention the Khashoggi affair.

Still, the course has been set. A recent law adopted by the Saudi government seeks to improve the competitiveness of the country’s tourist industry; at least that is the intentions of Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb.

Thanks to the new legislation, businesses will get special licences and support from the ministry, which plans to streamline licencing rules and set up a one-stop-shop platform for all tourism stakeholders.

Ultimately, the aim is to boost the sector’s contribution to the country’s economy, also counting on religious tourism to Makkah and Madinah, so that it will produce 10 per cent of its GDP and create up to a million new jobs.

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