In the desert city of Diriyah alone, Saudi Arabia is planning 38 luxury hotels with the aim of becoming a major player in tourism for wealthy travelers

Saudi Hazim Al Hazmi from the Saudi Tourism Authority at a press conference at ITB Berlin 2023. Photos: ITB Berlin

In the other Gulf states, too, the focus is exclusively on the luxury segment

In the desert town of Diriyah alone, Saudi Arabia is planning 38 additional hotels in the coming years. The expansion of the historic mud-brick town, only about 15 minutes by car from the center of the capital Riyadh and 30 minutes from its airport, is part of the “Vision 2030“ proclaimed by the crown prince, which aims to make the country less dependent on oil.

Tourism is to become an important pillar of this, as the country’s representatives emphasized at a press conference at the ITB trade fair (March 03 – 09, 2023) in Berlin. US $800 billion shall invest the desert state in its destinations and in the development of the infrastructure, so representatives of the country.

The focus is exclusively on the luxury segment of the travel market. By 2030, Saudi Arabia wants to have made it into the top 5 destination countries worldwide in this sector and attract 100 million foreign travelers annually. It also wants to show the country’s beauties to its own citizens.

The worldwide stone sector has already set its sights on this promising market, as evidenced by the number of exhibitors at construction trade shows in the Gulf. The fact that Saudi Arabia is developing its own quarries, as stated on a government web page, is related to the enormous demand for building materials such as crushed stone and sand. For the hotels and facilities, one relies on precious stones from melodious countries of origin.

Poster of the city of Diriyah at ITB Berlin 2023.

Diriyah is one of the country’s 6 World Heritage Sites and is expected to become a major tourist destination. It is marketed under the title “The City of Earth“ and the motto “Where it all began,“ with reference to the old settlement with more than 900 houses made of clay on the edge of the Wadi Hanifa. It is considered the ancestral home of the royal family.

The mega-project there is the Bujairi Terrace resort with 21 restaurants in the luxury and super-luxury categories. In addition to the additional hotels, new museums are also planned.

A center of tourism in Saudi Arabia is already AlUla (Al-Ula) with the necropolis of Hegra, comparable to Petra in Jordan and also a World Heritage Site. The Nabataeans carved more than 100 tombs into the rocks here. In the surrounding area, there are numerous sights that are still largely undiscovered by the travel trade, such as Khaybar, an oasis in the middle of a lava field, or Tayma, once the seat of the Babylonian kings.

An attraction there is the Maraya Concert Hall, the world’s largest building with a completely mirrored outer shell. The rock formation “Elephant Rock“ is one of the natural attractions.

Classic beach vacations are the order of the day on the west coast. This is where the Red Sea project is located, with 16 resorts and a regional airport. Completion is planned for 2024. In Amaala, there are to be wellness facilities with 3,000 hotel rooms by 2027. It is part of the NEOM mega-project, a new type of planned city on the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia only opened up to tourism in September 2019. Meanwhile, travelers from the United States, Schengen countries, and the United Kingdom can get their visas directly at the airport. For passengers of the Saudia and Flynas lines, there is the possibility of a stopover of 96 hours without a visa.

Other Gulf states are also focusing on tourism, and they too have their sights set on well-heeled travelers from all over the world. Luxury hotels are springing up in the United Arab Emirates and especially in Dubai. Oman is also active in the travel market. Qatar has put itself on the map with the 2022 Soccer World Cup.

As in the case of Saudi Arabia, these countries are also focusing on the evidence of their own history, enriched by up-to-date museums with world-class collections, and at the same time on entertainment and luxury for their guests.

Beach vacations with sun, sand, and sea are also on offer.

ITB Berlin 2023

Al Arabyia