Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of Saudi Tourism Authority
Saudi Arabia's tourism sector is in a headlong rush to reach pre-pandemic arrival numbers. And this is also helping the Kingdom's airlines. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Saudi Arabia is targeting 70 million visitors in 2022 compared to 62 million visitors in 2021, according to Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of Saudi Tourism Authority.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s tourist arrivals were at 72 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, which even then ‘outperformed’ the regional average, said Hamidaddin, during the Arabian Travel Market. “In the first quarter this year, we witnessed a growth of over 130 per cent versus pre-pandemic and we believe that this will continue to grow”

Saudi Arabia’s flagship carrier Saudia may hit profitability much sooner this year or latest by early 2023, according to its CEO Ibrahim Koshy. The airline was previously targeting 2024 for a return to profitability. “We’ve seen our recovery on the domestic market quite substantially in the first quarter,” said Koshy. “With 5.1 million passengers travelling on Saudi airlines alone, we are fully recovered in the domestic market.

“We have new demand coming because of the tourism products - people that have not visited before are coming to visit”

Saudi Arabia’s soon-to-be-launched full-service carrier will not directly compete with Saudia. He added that the market is big enough for two large airlines, with Saudi Arabia aiming to serve 330 million air passengers by 2030, more than triple the 100 million from 2019.

The name of the new carrier will be announced “soon,” said Koshy.

Not competing

Saudi Arabia’s tourism head rubbished the idea of the Kingdom competing with Dubai in the tourism sector. “The competition is at the regional level – we believe Arabia’s time has come and our success is as important as the success of our neighbors,” said Hamidaddin.

Hamidaddin’s views were echoed by other industry heads. "When we look at the region, it's growing every year to 2030 and beyond, ias well as much faster,” said Saudia’s Koshy.

Koshy added that the region’s commercial fleet size will have to more than double to keep up with demand. “I think we complement each other – from an airlines’ perspective, the success of our neighbors is very important to us.”

Saudi Arabia’s cruise industry, a main pillar of the country’s tourism ambitions, is expected to carry more than 1.3 million passengers by 2035.

“When it comes to cruising, I don’t believe in competition – the pie is big enough)," said Fawaz Farooqui, Managing Director, Cruise Saudi.

“We will create 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in the Saudi economy. we will launch 5-6 ports on the Red Sea by 2035”