The Persian Gulf countries want to diversify their economies and this is not new. Riding the wave of Dubai, Qatar, and other Emirates, Saudi Arabia also wants to find a place in the sun… of the desert!
According to what we have been told with great fanfare for a while, the country has not yet revealed its true potential as a world-class tourist destination… We’ll wait and see!
The Saudis say they are already satisfied with achieving tourism revenues of around 9 billion euros and maintain the goal of attracting 100 million vacationers by 2030; in addition to pilgrimages to Mecca.
Religious tourism aside, let’s take a closer look at what the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula has in store for visitors:
What is AIUla?
The country’s first major tourist destination is AlUla, an ancient oasis and archaeological region in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The region is home to rock-cut tombs, palm oases and landscapes similar to Jordan’s better-known archaeological site of Petra and the neighboring Wadi Rum desert. AlUla was a major crossroads along the ancient incense trade route.
In December 2022, the massive Saudi Diriyah project began welcoming visitors to its first destinations: the 18th-century mudbrick city of At-Turaif, designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2010, and the gastronomic district adjacent to Bujairi Terrace. Originally an oasis town located 18 km northwest of Riyadh. Once completed, Diriyah is expected to become the largest mudbrick city in the world
The Red Sea
In 2023, the first hotels are expected to open as part of the Saudi Red Sea Project, being developed along the country’s northwest coast. The destination, simply called the Red Sea, is centered around Al Wajh Lagoon, home to the world’s fourth-largest barrier reef and includes an archipelago of 90 islands. The site also encompasses a vast desert and volcanic landscape. By 2030, 22 islands are expected to have been developed and 50 hotels built. Unlike developments in Dubai, the islands here are natural and the project emphasizes environmental preservation and enhancement of local marine life
Of all the Saudi megaprojects, Neom has attracted the most attention. Covering more than 25,000m², the new region is almost the size of Belgium and larger than Kuwait. The project pursues a number of objectives, including the development of future-oriented industries, clean energy and innovations in urban life. Neom also aims to become a major tourist destination and presents itself as “the most ambitious tourism project in the world”. Today you need a little imagination.
Sindalah will be a luxury resort and the first destination to open in Neom, in 2024.
Trojena, scheduled for completion in 2026, will be a mountain tourism destination in central Neom. The project will include a huge artificial freshwater lake and an outdoor winter ski village, which will be a first in the Gulf region. The site’s cooler climate and mountainous heights typically result in freezing temperatures and light snowfall in winter. But technicians plan artificial snow just in case. The venue hopes to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 and is aiming for 700,000 visitors per year by 2030. Isn’t that a bit ambitious?
And we await the arrival of Riyadh Air…
Riyadh Air has been announced as THE new major airline alongside Saudia. We should probably see some planes one of these days. And of course, they are planning to expand the airport.
In conclusion, we must recognize that these are huge projects, but it seems that those who had the chance to take a look were charmed…