Next Tourism Hospot? – Saudi Arabia’s ‚Vision 2030‘ Beckons European Tourists

Written by | Saturday, January 30th, 2021

Could the Saudi Arabia‘s vision of transforming itself into a tourist hub by 2030 bring the Arab nation’s closer to Europe? The conservative Muslim kingdom, relatively closed off for decades, launched a new visa regime only in September 2019 for nationals from countries in Europe, North America and much of Asia to boost foreign tourism and diversify the economy away from oil. Tourist visas for Saudi Arabia have been available online and on arrival to holidaymakers who already hold a visa from the United States, Britain or the EU’s Schengen zone, expanding eligibility beyond an initial list of 49 countries. The Gulf country, which shares borders with Iraq to the north and Yemen to the south, boasts vast tracts of desert but also verdant mountains, pristine beaches and historical sites including five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Until September 2019, foreigners traveling to country had been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travelers and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But now, with mass inoculations underway, Europeans can dream of exploring the world again. And Saudi Arabia, investing heavily in tourist infrastructure and attractions, is an unlikely but exciting destination, replete with beaches, history, and cultural heritage. Going beyond pure tourism and leisure, the changes the Kingdom is pursuing are bound to have positive effects by bringing Brussels and Riyadh closer together. The country’s ambitious Vision 2030 plans to welcome one hundred million annual visitors over the next ten years, thus increasing its tourism revenue by 7% to contribute 10% of the country’s GDP. The hope is this will allow the country to reduce its dependence on petrochemicals and diversify its economy.
Saudi Minister of Tourism, His Excellency Ahmad bin Al Khateeb, has recently pointed out that the Red Sea, which attracts millions of European tourists on the opposing Egyptian shoreline, remains mostly untouched on the Saudi side. Also the Kingdom being the birthplace of Islam and cradle of Arab civilisation would be attractive to Europeans looking for history they’ve yet to encounter. Importantly, greater travel and tourism opportunities can defuse common misunderstandings between Europe and the Muslim world. But a more global outlook in Saudi Arabia could also make the Middle Eastern country a more attractive partner for Europe, not just in travel and tourism, but in other fields and sectors. Of course, the success of Saudi Arabia’s plans may also depend on how thoroughgoing, top-down the transformation will be, which should include removing radical and anti-Semitic content from its textbooks and allowing women to wear Western-style swimwear on private properties and hotel beaches. Though, inevitably, such changes are part of the tumultuous process of envisioning a new society , which will take time to implement.

Article Categories:
Asia-Pacific · GLOBAL EUROPE

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