Saudi Arabia to attract 15.8 million tourists by 2014

14 Feb 2012

Number of visitors to rise 6.7% year-on-year to 2014 boosted by religious, business and domestic tourism

Arabian Travel Market, the leading travel exhibition in the Middle East, is witnessing strong online visitor interest almost four months ahead of the event. The number of tourists heading to the Kingdom expected to reach 15.8 million by 2014 up from around 13 million in 2010, according to international industry consultant Business Monitor International (BMI).

The Kingdom’s hospitality sector will grow in tandem with the rise in tourist numbers with some 381,000 new hotel rooms expected by 2015, up from around 242,000 in 2010, BMI said.

“Saudi Arabia continues to focus on its tourism industry as it looks to diversify away from its dependence on oil, with revenues from tourism accounting for around 3.6% of GDP,” said Mark Walsh, Group Exhibition Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

“The tourism authority has announced it aims to attract 88 million tourists by 2020 as the kingdom focuses on developing religious tourism and business travel in particular,” added Walsh.

Religious tourism remains the main reason for overseas visitors. More than half of inbound visitors travel to Mecca and Medina, making it a major focus for major investment in hotels and leisure development.

The Kingdom issued 9.5 million religious visas last year, up 11.3% from 2010, according to the Ministry of Hajj website, with Umrah visas rising by one million in 2011 from 2010. Nearly two million foreign pilgrims arrived to perform Haj last year.

The government and developers are expected to spend some $120 billion in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina over the next decade, with some $20 billion of projects underway in Mecca alone, according to Banque Saudi Fransi.

Last year Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels Corporation all signed deals that will see them operating in Mecca.

Saudi Arabia’s government is undertaking major infrastructure initiatives to provide better services to pilgrims including infrastructure enhancement of the Holy Mosque in Mecca as well as expanding and upgrading King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, and Madina Airport.

The Middle East reported mixed results in the three key occupancy performance measurements in November 2011 due to the Arab Spring, according to industry consultants STR Global, although performances in individual countries differed greatly.

Occupancy fell by 4.3% to 65.8%, revenue per available room (RevPar) eased by 1% to US$121.28 while average daily rates increased 3.5% to US$184.24.

“The political upheaval over the last 12 months has had differing impacts on travel and tourism across the region. While there is uncertainty in North Africa and the Levant the oil-exporting Gulf states are witnessing greater stability,” commented Walsh.

“Nonetheless, governments across the region continue to plough billions of dollars into tourism infrastructure while leading Gulf carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways expand aggressively,” he added.

Pre-event visitor registrations for the four-day Arabian Travel Market show, which opens on 30 April 2012, are already up 132% from the same time last year, at nearly 2,000 visitors.

Visitor registrations from Saudi Arabia are up by 118% from this time last year, at 203. Meanwhile, the number of visitors interested in buying travel products and services from the Kingdom has risen 116% to 1,168.

Pre-registrations from Europe are up 94% so far.

The number of tourists visiting the Middle East is expected to grow by up to 5% this year following an 8% decline in 2011, according to a recent report by the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

There were an estimated 5 million fewer international tourist arrivals last year, down to 55 million, due to the turmoil in some of the region’s countries, UNWTO said.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai and approaching its nineteenth year, the show has grown to become the largest showcase of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world. Last year 2,232 exhibitors covering nearly 20,000 square metres, attracted more than 21,000 attendees.

Photo caption: Mark Walsh, Group Exhibition Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions. For more information on Arabian Travel Market 2012, please log on to www.arabiantravelmarket.com

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