Skift Take

Recognizing the need for a significant image overhaul, Saudi Arabia understands that reshaping perceptions is crucial for it to achieve its ambitious tourism goals by 2030.

Lionel Messi is back promoting Saudi Arabia in a campaign that says it wants to dismantle “walls” of “misconception” and break “outdated stereotypes.”

It’s called “Go Beyond What You Think” and gets at the transformative power of travel.

Last year in May, Messi shared photos from his trip to Diriyah in Saudi Arabia, fulfilling contractual obligations tied to his partnership with the country’s tourism authority. A report in the New York Times said the deal could earn him $25 million over three years.

Saudi’s New Tourism Campaign

As part of the “Saudi, Welcome to Arabia” brand, the campaign is set to launch across key markets in Europe, India, and China over a three-month period. It spans television, social media, and digital platforms.

The campaign is “anchored on consumer insights, which revealed there are still common misconceptions about the destination, and invites audiences to experience the incredible and vibrant cultural transformation taking place across Saudi,” according to a press release from the tourism board.

Messi, in a paid partnership with Visit Saudi, shared the campaign video on his Instagram account. He encourages those who have visited Saudi Arabia to share their experience and others to explore the country.

This initiative, part of Saudi Tourism’s ongoing efforts to broaden perspectives and foster cultural understanding through tourism, aligns with the “Tourism Opens Minds” initiative under the recently-renamed UN Tourism.

What Does Messi’s Video Feature?

The video showcases Saudi’s landscapes, including the Red Sea, Aseer’s green mountains, Tabuk’s snow-covered terrain, Jeddah’s coastal city, and the capital, Riyadh.

It highlights attractions like the Diriyah E-Prix, Riyadh Season’s theme park, AlUla’s hot air balloon flights, and MDL Beast music events. Messi celebrates the Saudi Women’s National football team, motorsport athlete Dania Akeel, DJ Cosmicat, and Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Saudi woman in space.

The campaign is launching ahead of Messi’s return to Saudi to play two matches with his current football club, Inter Miami, against Al Hilal on January 29 and Al Nassr on February 1.

Saudi’s Tourism Pivot

As part of its vision of transforming into a tourism and leisure powerhouse by 2030, Saudi Arabia plans to attract 150 million tourists every year with tourism contributing 10% of the Saudi economy.

Substantial investments, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, are allocated to the development of “giga-projects” in deserts, mountains, and waterfronts, all slated to be unveiled within the next seven years or sooner.

The country has also eased entry norms, having developed the eVisa program that now includes 63 countries and special administrative regions, as well as the GCC residents visa. There’s also a free 96-hour stopover visa, which entitles visitors to a complimentary one-night hotel stay during the stopover when booking with the national carrier, SAUDIA. Travelers can use the stopover visa to explore Saudi and perform Umrah.


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Tags: advertising campaign, asia monthly, saudi arabia, Saudi Vision 2030, saudia airlines, Saudia Arabia, unwto, visa

Photo credit: Lionel Messi and his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, in Diriyah. Saudi Tourism Authority

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