Monday, January 29, 2024

Saudi tourism, between messy and Messi

So Saudi Arabia is very serious about its tourism. Every other day in whatever online publication I read I see an article about tourism in Saudi Arabia. Some hyperventilating others keeping things more real. But the fact that Saudi bagged so many stars as ambassadors is truly a sign that they are very serious.

To be clear, yes, there are many interesting places to visit in Saudi Arabia, I know so because I was there in 2002-3 and went totally off the beaten track and saw wonderful things. It does get very cold at night in the desert by the way, so you might need to layer up. But all this being said, do people want to come to Saudi Arabia? Apparently I read that a total of 77.84 Million people did visit in 2022 (here), of course how many of those in the Hajj and Omra as opposed to regular tourists. Inbound tourism according to the same source was 16.64 million people. Already in 2022, religious tourism was 37%, visiting friends and relatives was 31%, business was 10%... So "leisure" and "other" were 18% only (here).

Now, what the kingdom is doing is basically replicating the success of Dubai. The #mydubai campaign was a total smash hit, so KSA went with #ShareYourSaudi and #السعودية_بعيونك the campaign's headline is "beyond what you think". Also Saudi Arabia is opening the first alcohol shop for non-Muslim diplomats (OK, this disregards the major bootleg and black market alcohol market already present there) a first in the kingdom since the 1952 ban.

After Ronaldo, who plays football for a local club, Messi is the second major boost for the kingdom in terms of international ambassadors. And yes, the star and his family are going all out promoting places to go and things to be seen in the kingdom.

Would this entice people to come visit KSA as tourists? I feel there is something very messy (pardon the pun) in the strategy. There is a full film by the way, watch it here.