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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Tourists spent $9.6bn in Saudi Arabia in July and August

The kingdom, which traditionally draws religious visitors, is opening up with concerts by foreign artists boosting numbers further​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
The ancient rock heritage site at Al Ula is set to be one of the biggest tourism draws when Saudi Arabia allows international travellers to visit. Bloomberg

Visitors to Saudi Arabia spent $9.6 billion (Dh35.26bn) in July and August boosted by Hajj and summer visitors, according to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

About 3.2 million visitors arrived in Saudi Arabia during the two summer months, compared with 3 million last year, as the kingdom boosts efforts to open up its archaeological and tourism sites to foreigners. The amount spent by tourists in July and August was a 9 per cent increase over the $8.8bn spent during the same period last year.

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's largest economy, will open doors to international tourists by the end of the year. The kingdom, which is home to Islam's holiest sites, is developing tourism as a viable sector as part of its Vision 2030 strategy to diversify revenues away from oil. Saudi Arabia is now a member of the World Tourism Organisation, and has provided the UN-backed initiative with $1.7 million in funding. Tourism expenditure by the Saudi government has also kept pace with the changing strategy, reaching $9bn in 2019 so far, compared with $8.3bn in 2018.

Domestic tourist numbers are also growing, as Saudi Arabia opens up to concerts by foreign artists, making it more attractive for Saudis to spend their weekends and holidays within the kingdom.

In July, Saudi Arabia hosted US singers Janet Jackson, 50 Cent and Chris Brown as well as British artist Liam Payne, who performed at a concert in the western Red Sea city of Jeddah. Special tourism visas were handed to concertgoers to attend the event.

According to the Tourism Information and Research Centre, domestic movements from January to August this year rose 3.4 per cent to reach 30 million trips, compared with the same period last year.

The number of tourists from outside Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, decreased 5.2 per cent from January until August compared with the same period last year.

The Saudi push for higher tourist numbers is also opening up the country's visa rules for tourism. The kingdom said last week it would allow international tourists to enter the country by the end of the year. In the past, the kingdom did not issue individual visas for tourists, with such visas only issued on an intermittent basis to select group tours.

Updated: September 14, 2019 12:36 PM