Saudi Arabia is set to put tourist visa regulations in place. Saudi Arabia is set to put tourist visa regulations in place.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is our second largest market in the Middle East and we continue to see a strong momentum of growth across the country,” Kyriakidis added. Marriott currently operates 23 hotels with over 6,700 rooms across nine brands in Saudi Arabia. These include Courtyard by Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments, The Ritz- Carlton, Marriott Hotels, Four Points by Sheraton, Residence Inn, Aloft, Le Méridien and Sheraton. And that’s not all. Expansion plans in Saudi Arabia are set to more than double the number of hotels, with the opening of 29 new hotels and more than 5,700 rooms. Three new brands will also be making their debut, including Autograph Collection, Westin and Element.

Hilton, meanwhile, currently operates 10 hotels in the country, with more than 30 further hotels under development. Similar to Marriott, Saudi Arabia also represents Hilton’s largest development pipeline in the Middle East.

The launch of these hotels is expected to add more than 8,400 rooms across the Kingdom. One such hotel is Hilton Riyadh Hotel & Residences, an 866-room property that is expected to open later this year, Kamel Ajami, vice president, operations, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia & Levant, Hilton told Hotelier Middle East.

The Radisson Hotel Group is also making significant gains in the Kingdom. Its area senior vice president, Middle East, Turkey and Africa, Tim Cordon said in a statement: “We are delighted to continue our strong growth across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is a key growth market for development for our group. We are pleased to see our portfolio rise to 18 hotels and we will continue to focus on growth in the key commercial cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, support the growth of religious tourism, and important industrial cities like Dammam and Jubail.”

In terms of what the opening of Saudi borders mean to the region in general, Kyriakidis noted that as Saudi Arabia is the largest economy within the region, it leads the way when it comes to the development of the region as a whole. The Saudi Vision 2030 presents ample opportunities across different sectors and the ease of entry will allow more people to cross the borders on a regular basis and explore possibilities that can include leisure, religious tourism, trade and business.

According to Ajami, new legislation and government reforms such as the expected issuance of tourist visas are making the Kingdom more accessible than ever before. The Saudi hospitality sector has demonstrated an ability to diversify its offering and attract the wide range of business it needs in order to sustain growth.

“The market for religious tourism has always been key and this is not going to change. We are now adding to that by working with the Saudi government and the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) to promote tourism to Saudi cities,” Ajami said.

Hotels are partnering with the GEA to host major entertainers performing in the country.  In addition, the conferences and exhibition sector is growing, not only bringing business to the Kingdom but also serving as a marketing engine to promote the venues available. Corporate business is also on the rise and the expectation is for this market to grow further with travellers coming to Saudi Arabia to service many of the mega-projects being planned by the government and the private sector.

One of the hospitality hotspots in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, will play an essential role in the Kingdom’s development plans in the Red Sea, as well as 50 Red Sea islands that are set to be transformed into a touristic destination offering a range of luxury resorts that are expected to host over a million tourists annually.

In parallel to Saudi Arabia’s initiatives to improve tourism, connectivity within the country is improving rapidly, with the railway project that links Saudi cities with Makkah expected to be completed sometime this year. The expansion of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, also expected to be completed this year, will improve transport links within the country.

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