Tourism in Saudi Arabia

 For a special report in MEED on tourism in Saudi Arabia I wrote about the market dynamics. Its tourism market had an interesting year in 2009. Domestic travel both internally and to overseas destinations increased substantially but international visitor numbers were way down on previous years. This is despite pilgrim numbers increasing to 3.3million arrivals. However estimates by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities show that for 2009 overall international visitor numbers have fallen to 10.9 million –  over 26 per cent down on 2008, when 14.8 million visitors entered. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) international arrivals to Saudi Arabia in the first nine months of 2009 fell by 29 per cent, which is more than any other Middle East country. Arrivals to the UAE fell 1.3 per cent, to Egypt 3.4 per cent, while arrival numbers rose 1.6 per cent in Jordan. But Lebanon was the region’s stellar growth market in 2009 with arrivals up 38.9 per cent to 1.85million visitors. “Lebanon is growing fast in popularity benefitting in particular from rising intra-regional demand. It is also very popular with expatriates in the Gulf looking for short break holidays,” says the WTO in its World Tourism Barometer published in January.

But Saudi Arabia is mainly concerned about domestic tourists – keeping more nationals holidaying at home. SCTA estimates that 32.9 million domestic tourists spent time in the Kingdom in 2009, compared to 28.8 million in 2008 and 28.5 million in 2007. Although the number of trips increased, the average spend per person decreased to SAR 1,037 ($276.5) from SAR 1,305 in 2008. One reason for this is that visitors spent less time away from home in 2009 than in 2008, spending less money per visit. In 2008 domestic tourists each spent an average of 6.9 nights away from home compared to an average of 6.2 nights away per tourist in 2009.

The full article can be read at in a couple of weeks!


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