Travel is back, bigger than ever for Saudi Arabia
As the world has begun to reopen, one thing is abundantly clear: travel is back and the appetite for travel is bigger than ever. Like many aspects of people’s lives, their travel behaviours have shifted and changed to reflect the impact of the pandemic.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz, set out Vision 2030 which laid the roadmap for diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy and improving the lives of Saudi citizens and residents. The tourism sector is playing a significant role in achieving the aims of the vision with the target of attracting 100 million visitors and accounting for 10% of GDP by 2030.
The Kingdom’s entire travel and tourism industry has worked towards making these targets possible by developing the ecosystem, educating people, and promoting Saudi Arabia as the destination of choice. And then the pandemic hit.
While this meant that the Kingdom would go unexplored by many outside of its border, domestic travel thrived as Saudis began to discover the many tourist attractions on their own doorstep.
With the travel and COVID restrictions being eased across the world, we are seeing new trends in the travel and tourism sector. People are eager to travel once again, to reconnect with families and friends and experience the joy and adventure of exploring new destinations.
They are now seeking meaningful experiences that enable them to connect with local people, to experience destinations as the locals do, and to return home with memories they can cherish.
Saudi Arabia is a vast Kingdom which reaches from the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf and every province is unique, attracting tourists from all across the Kingdom as well as international visitors. The metropolitan cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman have traditionally been, and still are, amongst the most popular destinations in the country.
However, there are rising stars in the Kingdom which are piquing the interest of an increasing number of tourists. Our booking data from Almosafer, our travel business, reveals destinations such as Taif, known for its fragrant roses; Jizan, gateway to Farasan Islands; and Al Khobar, an art and culture powerhouse, are growing in popularity with bookings for flights and hotels rising exponentially.
The city of AlUla, home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra, is rapidly becoming a bucket list destination for many domestic and international travellers. People are discovering the many attractions in every corner of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s growing entertainment sector has also played a huge role in boosting tourism and travelling for conferences and events is increasingly popular. Since the launch of Vision 2030, the Kingdom has hosted over 2000 entertainment, cultural, and sporting events, from Formula 1 to Riyadh Season, which are pulling in tourists from abroad and across the country to attend.
Religious travel for Hajj and Umrah is also on the rise. Since the lifting of restrictions on international pilgrims, we have seen increased interest for travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for Umrah, especially from new source markets in Central Asia. Not only are pilgrims travelling for religious reasons but many are extending their trips, combining them for leisure purposes to explore the Kingdom.
We are also seeing greater spontaneity in people’s travel booking behaviours with shorter booking windows. People are grasping opportunities to travel; they are not willing to put off their trips any longer. For many people, this summer will be the time to travel again. We are seeing a significant surge in searches across our booking platforms, at levels not seen since before the pandemic.
Above all, what these trends show is that the demand for travel is back and 2022 is going to be an excellent year for travel in the Kingdom.
* The CEO of Seera Group shares growing travel and tourism trends in Saudi Arabia