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Always keen to outdo itself, Saudi Arabia raises its visitor targets before it has even hit them.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

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Saudi Arabia will raise its previous 100 million visitors by 2030 target to 150 million, as kingdom officials say the old number is too low. The move was revealed during the Skift Global Forum 2023 by Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Deputy Minister, Destination Enablement at the Ministry of Tourism.

“100 million visits is no longer sufficient,” he said. “We are well above our targets and well above our 2022 performance. So we must be doing something right.”

In 2022, Saudi saw only 16.5 million inbound visitors. But domestically the country saw 77.8 million visitors. Saudi counts that as 94.4 visitors total in 2022 – a 45% increase on 2019 and spend has gone up 25%.

He added that leisure is now the country’s strongest growth area. Leisure accounts for 38% of all visits and 41% of spend as of last year, while the country now has 880,000 people employed in the sector, a 15% increase on 2019.

Saudi Crown Prince Unveils Yet Another Mountain Tourism Project

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has announced Soudah Peaks, a new project on the country’s highest peak, 3,015 meters above sea level, where various hotels, holiday homes, shops and restaurants will be built.

It is the second mountain tourism project of Mohammed bin Salman, who also greenlit Trojena, where Saudi Arabia plans to host the Asia Winter Games in 2029.

Financed by the Public Investment Fund, Soudah Peaks will be completed within a decade, housing 2,700 hotel keys and 1,336 residences, along with 80,000 square meters of commercial space. Soudah Peaks will have mansions, chalets, villas, resorts and boutique hotels, with phase one of the development given a 2027 finish line.

Mohammed bin Salman acts as chairman of the project’s development company, which Saudi Arabia says can add $7.7 billion to national GDP and generating thousands of jobs.

The crown prince said: “The masterplan reaffirms our commitment to global efforts in preserving the environment and natural resources for future generations and aims to contribute to diversifying national income sources and building a strong economy that attracts local and global investments.”

Flydubai Passenger Numbers Jump Despite Order Delays

Dubai’s own rendition of a low-cost carrier – Flydubai – reported a 30% jump in passenger traffic this summer. Four million passengers between June and mid-September used the airline, which operated around 32,000 flights to 120 destinations. The airline’s CEO said figures could’ve been greater if Flydubai hadn’t faced delays in ordering new crafts. “This would have enabled us to add more capacity on some of these popular routes,” said CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith. Like its big brother Emirates, Flydubai has rebounded swiftly from the doldrums of 2020. In March, Flydubai reported profits of AED1.2 billion ($327 million) in 2022, an increase of 43% compared to the previous year.

GCC Lawmakers Mull Region-Wide Visa

The GCC is once again tabling a potential region-wide visa, likened to the Schengen zone in Europe, which could boost tourism within the UAE and the burgeoning tourism destinations in other countries. Bloomberg reported that the UAE Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri disclosed this development during a conference in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. “What’s good for Saudi is good for the GCC,” he said at the conference. “If the tide comes up, it pulls up all the boats.” The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This GCC zone visa was first mentioned in May of this year, said to have been inspired by various free-travel policies Gulf states rolled out during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Regular Flights Begin to Saudi Giga-Project

Red Sea Global, developer of the tourism project of the same name, has commenced the first flights at the Red Sea International Airport (RSI). National carrier Saudia runs twice-weekly flights from Riyadh to the airport. Red Sea International Airport is operated by daa International, which has supported Red Sea Global with design validation and commissioning of RSI since 2020. With the arrival of RSI’s first commercial flight, daa International’s operational responsibility commences. “RSI is the gateway to The Red Sea destination. It is the first impression visitors have, and their parting memory when they leave. The brand echoes the qualities of the five-star hospitality guests will enjoy across the destination,” said Red Sea Global group CEO John Pagano.

Dubai Hotel Group Rove Eyes Growth Across The Region

The UAE’s Rove Hotels wants to push into the wider region after several strong years in Dubai. A joint venture between Emaar and Dubai Holding’s Meraas, Rove pitches itself as a mid-market hotel brand, offering greater affordability than Emaar’s flagship hotel brand Address. To date, Rove has 3,400 keys but has new plans to develop a further 6,600 in the next five years. Actual locations or timelines weren’t provided, but Rove said it will open properties across the Middle East. COO Paul Bridger said: “As a homegrown brand, we are thrilled to see the tremendous growth in tourism that the region is experiencing, and we believe that Rove Hotels can play an important role in providing accessible quality accommodation options for travelers.”

Hilton Snags Plaza Hotel From Anantara

The Plaza Doha has opened, managed by Hilton, rather than Minor Hotels as originally planned. The Plaza Doha runs the LXR Hotels & Resorts flag – Hilton’s high-end collection brand for properties that don’t slot into their other brand guidelines. The release omits the fact that the property was intended to be Plaza Doha Anantara Hotel & Suites, signed by Minor in 2019. Hilton, naturally, celebrated its partnership with developers Samrya Hospitality.

Bear Grylls Puts His Name Behind a Project in Saudi Arabia

Famous adventurer Bear Grylls has signed with Saudi developers for Bear Grylls Survival Academy in the country. It is the second outdoor tourism project of Grylls’ in the Middle East, who has another outpost in the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah mountains. The project is through a deal with Red Sea Global, whose sports tourism brand Akun will collaborate with Grylls. In line with its commitment to be a fully disability-friendly developer, Red Sea Global said the academy will be open for all abilities. “We believe that everyone should have the chance to follow their sense of adventure and will work with the Bear Grylls Survival Academy team to develop outdoor experiences for all, whether adults or young people, and irrespective of physical and cognitive ability,” said group CEO John Pagano.

Marriott Launches Four Points Offshoot Brand

Marriott has announced a new derivative of its Four Points brand, which is itself a derivative of the Sheraton brand. Four Points Express by Sheraton has been launched to help the operator accelerate growth in the mid-market space, something Hilton is also doing. The brand focuses on practicality and “fundamentals,” as well as affordability. Satya Anand, President, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Marriott International said: “Midscale is a resilient industry segment that currently represents almost 1.2 million rooms in EMEA, and 68% of those rooms are unbranded. Four Points Express will offer hotel owners the opportunity to capitalize on Marriott International’s powerful distribution systems.” In the Middle East, two hotels are earmarked for Turkey.

Party Brand Nikki Beach Heads to Ras Al Khaimah

Nikki Beach is the latest high-end hotel brand to put its confidence in Ras Al Khaimah. Now, the once-quiet Northern emirate has a Nobu, W hotel, Wynn resort and others on the way. Developed by government-backed company RAK Properties, the Nikki Beach resort will have 155 keys, and be located on Mina Al Arab, as opposed to Marjan Island, where most operators are planting themselves.

Skift Global Forum 2023 Coverage


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Tags: hotel news, middle east newsletter, Middle East tourism, saudi arabia, sgf2023, Tourism news, travel news

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