RIYADH – Saudi Arabia has handed out more than 400,000 tourist visas to international travellers since late September, according to country’s top tourism official.
The number, which excludes the millions of religious pilgrims, reveals the challenges that the conservative Islamic kingdom faces as it builds a tourism sector from scratch under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic diversification plan.
The country is targeting to draw 100 million visitors annually by 2030.
For one, the issue is the lack of infrastructure, said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and a key adviser to the prince, during an investment conference in Riyadh, Bloomberg reported.
“The kingdom is very rich in this sector – it has natural treasures that need strong investments.”
Before tourist visa applications were opened, Saudi Arabia has long been among the most difficult countries to visit apart from pilgrimage trips.
Tourism to the country has room to grow compared to its counterparts in the region, such as Dubai, which received 16.7 million international visitors in 2019.
Saudi officials expressed the need to add more flights and hotel rooms to meet demand as they chase their targets.