‘Not worried at all’ about attracting international visitors, says Saudi tourism chief

Business

Despite ongoing unrest in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s tourism chief said the kingdom is “very safe” and he doesn’t see the disorder impacting tourist arrivals.

“I’m not worried at all because Saudi Arabia is very safe,” Ahmad Al-Khatib, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Tuesday.

When asked about ballistic missiles from Yemen and potentially Iran or Iraq that are in range of the country, he said he expects “things will … settle and slow down in Yemen” and the situation will improve.

“I don’t see it impacting,” he said. “If we look at the 1.6 billion travelers, I don’t believe more than 10 percent would feel that Saudi Arabia is not safe.”

He also said he hasn’t heard of anyone deciding not to visit because of the instability in the region.

The kingdom announced last September that it would be launching its first-ever tourist visas in a bid to boost tourism. Before then, foreign visitors were almost exclusively religious pilgrims.

Vision 2030 goals

Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, the country wants tourism to make up 10% of GDP, up from around 3%. It also has a target of 100 million international and domestic annual visits by 2030.

“We launched the e-Visa and we opened our hearts and doors to the world last September,” Al-Khatib said, speaking to CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Since then, we had received more than 500,000 visitors,” he said, adding that he is “very, very encouraged” by the numbers.

“Hopefully this year, we are planning to reach … 50 million, which is half of our 2030 target,” he said.

Al-Khatib also discussed plans for the kingdom to develop its tourism industry beyond airports, roads and mobility.

“The food and beverages, we’re expanding the offering and we are catering for all (types) of tourist needs,” he said. “We are upgrading this and building this, and trying our best to protect our culture.”

“When tourists come to Saudi Arabia, (we want them to) experience an authentic experience, and leave Saudi Arabia with great memories,” he said. “This is a promise.”

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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