By: Yara Abi Farraj

Photo: ESA

Saudi Arabia celebrated a monumental tourism milestone as it welcomed over 100 million tourists in 2023, surpassing Vision 2030 expectations seven years ahead of schedule. This extraordinary achievement, acknowledged by the UN World Tourism Organization, underscores the Kingdom’s ascent as a leading force in the global tourism landscape.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism revealed that the Kingdom welcomed 27.4 million international tourists last year. This marks a notable 65 percent increase compared to 2022. Moreover, it welcomed 79.3 million domestic tourists as well, marking a 2 percent increase compared to 2022.

Economic diversification

Collectively, both international and domestic tourists spent more than SAR250 billion ($67 billion). This constitutes over 4 percent of Saudi Arabia’s total gross domestic product (GDP) and 7 percent of its non-oil GDP.

Saudi Arabia’s tourism growth is attributed to its strategic initiatives and reforms that have propelled its tourism sector to new heights. The demand for tourism activity licenses in 2023 surged by 390 percent. Moreover, the contribution of tourism to the non-oil gross value added (GVA) exceeded 7 percent.

Strategic initiatives

UN Tourism’s collaboration with Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in positioning the Kingdom as a global leader in sustainable tourism practices and statistical excellence. Moreover, the inauguration of UN Tourism’s regional office for the Middle East in Riyadh in 2021 marked a significant step towards fostering tourism innovation, education, and rural development.

Saudi Arabia has led the G20 in international tourist growth rate in 2023. It also spearheaded the Middle East’s tourism recovery post-pandemic. Moreover, the Middle East has emerged as the only region not only to rebound but also to outpace pre-pandemic tourism levels. Its rate of recovery in international tourist arrivals in 2023 was 122 percent compared to 2019. Particularly, the Kingdom witnessed a staggering 156 percent recovery in international tourist arrivals compared to 2019, underscoring its vital role in the region’s tourism boom.

Resilience and innovation

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector demonstrates remarkable resilience, with inbound spending surpassing $37 billion in 2023 and significant growth in hotel infrastructure. These achievements reflect the Kingdom’s commitment to creating a prosperous and sustainable tourism sector through innovation and adaptation.

Notably, employment opportunities in the tourism sector play a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s success, with plans to make tourism the second-largest employer by 2030. With over 925,500 jobs created and investments in workforce development, the Kingdom ensures equitable distribution of tourism’s benefits.

As Saudi Arabia aims to welcome 150 million tourists by 2030, UN Tourism reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the Kingdom’s journey. Collaboration, innovation, and a clear vision for the future continue to drive Saudi Arabia’s tourism success, promising a brighter future for global tourism.


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