Overall tourism spending in Saudi Arabia, including residents and foreigners, rose 52 percent in 2021 to SR95.6 billion ($25.5 billion) from SR63.4 billion the previous year, data published by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed.
The numbers, however, paled compared to 2019 figures when the country bagged SR164.6 billion in overall tourism spending.
According to SAMA, domestic tourism in the Kingdom, which includes residents traveling on holiday, soared 86.6 percent to SR80.9 billion ($21.6 billion) in 2021 from SR43.35 billion in 2020.
Holidays and shopping alone contributed 58.2 percent of domestic tourism, totaling SR47.1 billion.
Visits to relatives and friends followed at SR19.1 billion, holding 23.6 percent of domestic expenditure, whereas money spent on religious purposes came in third at SR8.8 billion, with a 10.9 percent share.
The average duration of stay by Saudi residents domestically stood at approximately six days, according to data compiled by Arab News.
On the other hand, inbound tourism spending dropped to SR14.7 billion in 2021 from SR20.1 billion in 2020. Foreign tourism expenditure in the country peaked at SR103.4 billion in 2019 and decreased by 80.1 percent and 26.8 percent in the following years.
The average duration of nonresidents’ trips stood at 11 days. The religious inbound tourism sector saw the largest drop in volume; it fell by 83.9 percent from 2020, amounting to only SR1.7 billion in 2021.
According to data from SAMA, the volume of residents’ spending outside the Kingdom during touristic trips reached SR51.5 billion in 2021 after dropping to SR22 billion the earlier year.
This entailed a hefty 134.6 percent rise in outbound tourism compared to a 67.7 percent drop in 2020. Furthermore, residents spent around two weeks per trip when traveling abroad, data compiled by Arab News showed.
It is worth mentioning the Kingdom is determined to promote religious travel and retrieve pre-pandemic religious tourism levels.
“The number of pilgrims has shrunk significantly during the pandemic, but the government is targeting 30 million pilgrims by 2030, which some analysts have said is an ambitious figure,” stated Abbas Al-Lawati, a Gulf-based journalist, in a recent CNN publication.
“I think our record-high domestic travel was last year. And on general recovery of total travel, we outperformed the globe, we outperformed the region in terms of recovery — we reached 72 percent of pre-pandemic levels,” said Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin in an interview with Reuters.
Not only did the Kingdom see advancement in the tourism sector, but it also showed great efforts in implementing an authentic, sustainable development environment within that sector.
“AlUla, as an example, is remarkable. It recognizes that sustainability is not just about green and blue; it’s about cultural sustainability, social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability,” said Anita Mendiratta, special adviser to the UN World Tourism Organization’s secretary-general.
The sustainability-led progress that has been made in the Kingdom’s tourism sector could be used as a global case study, claimed Mendiratta in the 116th Executive Council of the UN World Tourism Organization.