Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is forecast to provide around 1.7 million jobs by 2020, according to a senior official from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).
Speaking at the Jeddah Economic Forum, SCTA president Prince Sultan bin Salman said that the tourism sector provided around 751,000 jobs in 2013 with around 27 per cent of them held by Saudis.
The tourism sector has one of the highest rates of nationalisation in the Kingdom, second only to banking.
Tourism added around SAR75 billion to Saudi’s national economy by the end of 2013, Salman said. The industry currently contributes to around 2.6 per cent of the Kingdom’s economy.
He also confirmed that Saudi Arabia has also suspended a limited tourist visa programme to help government focus on improving its tourism infrastructure. The SCTA president told media that the Discover! Saudi Arabia initiative, under which a handful of tour operators from places such as the US and Japan worked with Saudi Airlines to organise small tourist trips, has been temporarily suspended.
The government is also planning to launch a new program, which will allow pilgrims coming to perform Umrah to visit some tourist and historical sites. The scheme-called Extended Umrah Toursim Programme- will give visitors from 65 countries a chance to stay a month longer in Saudi Arabia for sight seeing.
Despite the industry’s large potential in the Kingdom, Salman said that the Kingdom’s priority is to promote domestic tourism.
“Saudi Arabia already has 10 million people living and working there and it is open a lot to business people in terms of business practices that includes tourism. But more importantly, we are really focusing on our huge local market,” Salman told reporters in Dubai last year.
“We don’t really have to rush and import tourists while our capacity is not there and our infrastructure for tourism is not fully there. We started very late in tourism and we are currently focusing on converting it from a sector to a whole industry.
“We have practically gone about 90 per cent of the way now in terms of laws, regulations, infrastructure and projects,” he added.