Saudi Arabia has announced its target of attracting 100 million tourists a year by 2030.
To put the number into perspective, the most visited country, France, saw 89 million tourists in 2018.
The ambitious target will be spurred on by the country’s flagship Red Sea Project, a development of luxury resorts and tourist attractions costing US$500 billion on the Red Sea coastline. Ninety artificial islands are expected to be built over the next few years.
The kingdom has also stepped up its marketing of around a hundred historical sites across the country.
“There will be a lot of pent up demand to go and travel as soon as the restrictions are lifted,” the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.
Before 2019, Saudi Arabia did not issue tourist visas to foreigners. It was impossible to enter the kingdom unless you were there on a work visa, and even they were not easy to obtain.
Muslims have always been allowed to enter on haj and umrah pilgrimages, but only with a pilgrimage visa and numbers are strictly limited to a quota per country to avoid too many pilgrims arriving and causing chaos at the holy sites.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the cities of Mecca and Medina, and that is expected to continue.
In an attempt to move away from its economic dependence on oil, the country will relax its strict dress code, making it a more attractive destination to millions worldwide.
There is no word on whether the kingdom’s strict ban on alcohol will be modified. Tourism experts say without that it is unlikely that tourism would take off in a big way. The modernising royals may wish to relax the ban but the powerful religious authorities would not back such a move.