Saudi Arabia’s Travel Sector Challenges May Slow Tourism Growth Post Covid
The pandemic stalled tourism activities for almost every country across the globe. While some Middle Eastern nations resorted travel sector challenges by running fast vaccination drives, many offered temporary citizenship and extended tourist visas to lure potential tourists. Speaking of Saudi Arabia’s future tourism goals, the obstacles in hand seem to be lot more than Covid-19. Below we enlist a few of them –
Lack of Popularity
Despite claims of preserving its historical monuments and promoting biodiversity of the Red Sea, Saudi’s heritage and culture is not known abroad. While the government is engaging in large-scale marketing campaigns, tourists these days are cautious about heading to a country that lays strict restrictions on dress codes and alcohol consumption. Unless the government reworks some of its laws, limited tourist arrivals would be one of travel sector challenges.
Competition from Neighbouring Countries
Even as Saudi runs high in its move to attract foreign visitors, the UAE poses a tough competition by luring foreign investors by offering 100 percent foreign ownership across 122 economic sectors. In November 2020, the country announced some reforms to its Islamic legal code and eased certain restriction on alcohol consumption. Following these reforms, vacationers are keener to spend leisure time in other Gulf countries than Saudi.
Over tourism vs Preservation
As a part of its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia has been consistently encouraging tourists to witness the Red Sea Project once it is ready to welcome visitors. Meanwhile, over tourism is being seen as one of many travel sector challenges that the country’s naturally renewable spot might face. As stated by John Pagano, the Chief Executive of the Red Sea Development Co., avoiding “over tourism” and not “messing up the place” will be a huge challenge.
Tourists all over the world plan vacations according to the social image of destination countries. Despite rigorous efforts, Saudi Arabia hasn’t been successful in washing the negative perception. This is mainly because it receives extended criticism from human rights activists and groups who have been harassed by Saudi authorities on unjust charges. Saudi imposed travel bans on women activists like Loujain Hathloul defer the confidence of women travellers waiting to visit the country. As per Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch Michael Page, “Saudi Arabia cannot rehabilitate its international image so long as it harasses, arrests, and tortures its critics into submission or makes them flee abroad”.
Another one in the list of Saudi’s travel sector challenges is the poor infrastructure of its lesser-known areas. According to a partner at Twenty31 Consulting Inc. — Oliver Martin, “One of the largest barriers to [growing travel and tourism] is that infrastructure on the ground is completely new and limited”.
With a significant decline in business traveller arrivals, Saudi Arabia may face hurdles in its plans to attract more non-religious travellers in the coming years. Since Covid-19 has slowed tourism industry’s planned growth, it remains to be seen if the country will be able to surpass the above listed travel sector challenges and rise above the losses.