Opinion: What Saudi Arabia Can learn From The Tourism Industries Of Its Neighbours


With Saudi Arabia now opening up its door for tourists and doing its best to achieve the targets laid out in Vision 2030 it need not look further for inspiration as they can find good examples of how to build a thriving tourism industry from scratch from its next-door neighbours.

UAE and Oman have highly developed tourism industries. Both of these countries receive millions of tourists on an annual basis. Dubai, in particular, has been consistently featuring in the top 10 most visited cities in the world in the past few years.

UAE and Oman weren’t always tourism hubs; they grew rapidly starting in the 2000s.

How did they do it?

They invested in major advertising campaigns, built the infrastructure, gave plenty of things for tourists to do and started appearing in the news – UAE for its tallest building, using supercars for its police fleet and Oman by going on a UNESCO World Heritage tag getting spree.

Both the countries created an easy visa policy offering visa on arrival to many countries. While GCC citizens had visa-free access, Oman and UAE extended it to GCC residents as well. Although UAE has pulled back this service, of late.

They brought in substantial cultural and sporting events. Oman’s capital has become a regional golfing destination by building some of the best golf courses in the Middle East and even held the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series event that put the sultanate on the international sailing map. While the UAE annually holds significant sporting events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Another reason that contributed to their growth is an active national carrier. They capitalised on their central location and became hubs so that now if anyone wants to go from London to say Hong Kong, they can go by Emirates via a stopover at Dubai. Following them closely is Oman Air who is trying to replicate the same model using Muscat as its base.

What can Saudi do?

Get more sites registered on UNESCO’s coveted World Heritage Site list. Saudi Arabia has no dearth of historical and cultural sites yet has only four registered so far. These can bring much exposure internationally.

Opening up of a new electronic visa for sporting and cultural events that was announced last month has been a good start. Accompanying this with big events can bring massive number of international tourists. What is now needed is a visa on arrival for many countries.

Encourage domestic tourism, as initially getting in tourists from outside will be hard and the numbers will be too little to create sustainable tourism projects. By creating a strong domestic tourism industry, these projects can run without being an added burden on the shoulders of the government.

Saudia Airlines should shift from being an airline that gets people to and from Saudi to becoming an airline that transports travellers from the East to the West and vice versa.

The focus should be on one or two main cities, and all major tourism-related efforts are to be concentrated there. For Oman, it is Muscat, for UAE it Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Once at least one or two of these cities have the necessary infrastructure and become somewhat of a tourist destination slowly, other places can be built, and the tourists will eventually trickle down there.

Bring in international travel influencers. There are tons of them, and many will do it for free provided their flights and stay is paid for.


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