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Saudis target 4.8% rise in tourist revenues

 Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, expects revenue from tourism to increase 4.8 per cent in 2010 as the kingdom tries to attract more visitors and religious pilgrims, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Tourism revenue will reach 66 billion riyals (Dh64 billion) and rise to 118 billion riyals in 2015, the Riyadh- based news service said, citing Saleh Al Bakhit, the deputy-chairman for investments at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

Saudi Arabia wants to develop its tourism industry as it tries to diversify its economy away from oil and create employment for its youth. Saudi Arabia is building a $5.3 billion rail line that can transport three million people between Makkah and Madina and is expanding Jeddah international airport to handle 30 million passengers by 2012.

Saudi nationals represented 117,384 of the 457,658 people employed by the tourism industry at the end of 2009, the Saudi Press Agency said, citing Al Bakhit.

The Riyadh-based tourism commission wants to attract more investment and will start a development company to identify new opportunities in the kingdom, Al Bakhit said, according to the news service. The government will allow long-term land leases for tourism projects, he said.

Jabal Omar Development, a real-estate developer in Makkah, is building 27 hotels with a combined 15,000 rooms. The first will open in 2011. Kingdom Holding, the investment company controlled by billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, plans to open a five-star hotel with 1,000 rooms, restaurants and retail space in Islam’s holiest city.

Saudi Arabia receives at least two million visitors a year from 160 countries for the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. The commission also wants to promote its Red Sea coastline and historical sites, including Madain Saleh and Souq Okaz, as tourist destinations, Al Bakhit said.

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