Quick tourism rebound likely: Minister


Saudi Arabia is expecting a quick rebound in tourism with the government preparing to reopen its borders to foreign tourists in January, said Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb in an interview.

The kingdom hasn’t revised its visitor targets for 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic, he said in the Bloomberg interview.

The kingdom is using its G20 presidency to facilitate a resumption of global travel, Al-Khateeb said. "If countries today open their borders, we will be fit to run fast, and this is the plan," said Al-Khateeb, a key adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "We believe people want to travel and they will continue to travel, but we need countries to coordinate their actions."

The pandemic forced Saudi Arabia to shut its borders in March, thwarting the government’s ambitions to expand its travel industry six months after allowing vacationers to visit the country for the first time. While the number of international visitors slumped, a boom in domestic tourism surpassed official projections and helped offset that decline, he said in the interview.

Al-Khateeb said the government still plans to expand the sector to make up 10 per cent of economic output by 2030. "We built the ecosystem, we have the international campaigns ready, we have developed the visitor experience and we are ready to capture the numbers we promised to capture," he said.

Domestic travel, which has seen a surge of 50 per cent more than official projections, has helped save businesses and jobs, Al-Khateeb said.

Ten sites where the government chose to promote summer travel generated SR8.6 billion ($2.3 billion) from June 25 to Aug 31, a 31 per cent increase from last year, Al-Khateeb said. Hotel occupancy at those sites rose to about 80 per cent over the summer, compared to just 5 per cent earlier in the pandemic, he added.