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Visitors tour the rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh near the city of Al Ula. The Kingdom seeks to attract up to 2 million visitors annually to Al Ula. Image Credit: Reuters file

Dubai: Saudi Arabia has marked a significant milestone in its tourism sector, recording a staggering 156 per cent increase in international arrivals in 2023 compared to 2019, according to the World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) Barometer report.

The remarkable growth not only signals a robust recovery from the pandemic’s impact but also establishes the Kingdom as a key catalyst in the resurgence of Middle Eastern tourism, which saw an overall 22 per cent increase in 2023.

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Despite the global tourism sector being 12 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, there were about 1.3 billion international arrivals in 2023. International tourism revenues neared $1.3 trillion, reaching 93 per cent of the 2019 levels. The sector’s direct contribution to the global GDP was around 3 per cent, amounting to $3.3 trillion.

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The UNWTO forecasts a complete recovery in global tourism by 2024, expecting a 2 per cent increase over 2019 figures. Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector, leading the G20 in growth and ranking as the second fastest-growing tourist destination globally in the first three quarters of 2023, stands out significantly.

The Kingdom has witnessed a surge in visitor spending, with the Saudi Central Bank reporting over SR100 billion in international visitor expenditures.

The travel balance of payments indicated a 72 per cent rise from 2022, showcasing a surplus of 37.8 billion Saudi riyals by the third quarter of 2023. These achievements underscore Saudi Arabia’s ascent as a global tourist hotspot, driven by increased traveller confidence in its diverse attractions.

Looking ahead to 2024, the Ministry of Tourism is set to maintain this upward trajectory. The Kingdom plans to highlight destinations such as AlUla, Diriyah, Yanbu, and Abha and host major events like the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Diriyah E-Prix, and cultural festivals.