Tourist numbers in Saudi Arabia’s coastal city of Jeddah have fallen by 75 per cent during Ramadan with hotel occupancy rates standing at a mere 30 per cent, Saudi media reported.
Ibrahim Al-Rashid, a member of Saudi’s national tourism council, said that the slump in visitor numbers was greater than anticipated.
“We expected a 25 per cent decrease, but what we have is a 75 per cent decrease,” he said.
Al-Rashid attributed the unexpected slowdown in tourism to late summer vacations in the region, as Saudi and Gulf nationals constitute the bulk of tourists to the city. He added that most of them preferred to visit Makkah and Madina at this time of the year.
However Prince Abdullah Bin Saud Bin Mohamed, chairman of the tourism committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was quoted in the media as saying that it too early to put a number on tourist figures since Ramadan is still underway. But Prince Abdullah did confirm that the hotel and short stay apartment occupancy rates have fallen by 20 per cent during June to July.
He criticised the Jeddah municipality and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) for not rolling out adequate marketing for the promotion of tourism in the city.
Prince Abdullah also added that Jeddah does not have adequate number of hotels and that regulations governing the hotel ownership in the Kingdom are “needlessly arcane and require reform,” Saudi Gazette reported.
Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, had previously announced an aggressive promotion of domestic tourism with heavy investments in the industry. However the Kingdom still is not open to foreign tourists.
“We are really focusing on our huge local market. 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,” Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the SCTA, told reporters earlier this year.
But some efforts to step up tourism in the Kingdom have begun; visitors on the month-long Umrah visa will now be allowed to travel to other parts of the country.
According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the Kingdom saw a 14 per cent growth in tourism in 2012 and is the fifth best performer globally.
Saudi is hoping to see a six per cent rise in domestic tourism by 2020, and is expanding airport and hotel capacity to cater to increasing demand.
By 2020, the sector is estimated to employ 1.1 million people directly, and contribute to 3.5 per cent of the country’s total GDP.