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Saudi Arabia has made no secret of its ambitions to diversify its economy away from oil, in part, by becoming a world class tourism destination.
Now, at a time when global tourism is on its knees due to the coronavirus crisis, Saudi Arabia’s council of ministers have redoubled efforts, announcing a $4 billion investment fund on Sunday to stimulate the tourism industry.
The announcement comes after the launch of the nation’s e-visa program last October, wherein the Kingdom signaled its desire to open up to the world for the first time, loosening some rules for visitors to make it a more desirable destination. The launch was accompanied by a glitzy campaign that drew no shortage of criticism for being seen as an attempt to pave over Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.
According to a press release from Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Development Fund will “collaborate with private and investment banks to support private-sector developments and incentivize further investment across the industry.”
The ministry also said it had $45 billion in memoranda of understanding secured with private banks.
“The launch of the fund at this time, as the tourism sector faces unprecedented global challenges, is testament to investor and private-sector confidence in the long-term outlook for tourism in Saudi Arabia,” Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said in a statement. “The social and economic importance of the sector cannot be understated: it drives growth and diversification, attracts international investment, creates job opportunities and enhances quality of life for millions of Saudis.”
The crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions is the Red Sea Project, a roughly 10,000-square-mile development on Saudi Arabia’s west coast that has recently marked the positions for the overwater islands that will host villas, hotels, and luxury restaurants. Phase one of the project is scheduled to open in 2022.
Saudi Arabia began easing its lockdown measures at the end of May. Officials are still deciding whether next month’s Hajj pilgrimage can go forward. Prior to introducing its tourism e-visa last year, the religious pilgrimage that attracts 2.5 million Muslims each year was the primary way the kingdom welcomed visitors.