Saudi Arabia is experiencing a relative tourism boom in response to opening its borders to secular international visitors in September of 2019. A little more than three months later, the chairman of the the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ahmed Al Khatib, said that the country had issued 350,000 tourist visas in Q4 of that year alone.
While Saudi Arabia is a much less well known travel destination to the tens of millions of annual visitors to the Middle East, especially in comparison with its more famous neighbours such as Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE, it has pumped millions of dollars into PR.
Dozens of social media influencers have started popping up all over Saudi Arabia on sponsored trips to the kingdom, and huge modern events, such as the electronic music festival MDL Beast, have enabled organisers to book high-profile international celebrities to perform and publicise their appearances.
While some in the West have criticized these individuals for promoting Saudi Arabia, those same critics often overlook the modernizing and liberalizing effect that this new push to open the country up to the West has had on the country and its citizens – and the grave risks that the government is taking in order to make these changes so fast.
If this rapid rise in international arrivals and interest is any indication of what 2020 has in store, then Saudi Arabia is on the verge of actually achieving its goal of diversifying its economy over the next decade and becoming one of the Middle East’s hottest new destinations.