Saudi tourism sector projected for 45% decline this year

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism has said the virus could severely damage the industry

Umrah attracts tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world each month
Umrah attracts tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world each month

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector could see a decline of between 35 and 45% this year due to the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s Minister of Tourism told Reuters explained that the full extent of the virus will depend on how quickly the Kingdom returns to normality.

“We believe this year the impact will be in the range of 35%-45% decline, compared to last year, depending on how fast we will reopen the country and receive visitors,” Ahmed al-Khateeb told Reuters in a virtual interview.

“The sector has been severely impacted, hotels globally are suffering today from very low occupancy ratios, it is the case here in Saudi Arabia as well. We hope things get better in the next few weeks and we have a fast recovery,” he added.

COVID-19 was a curveball to Saudi’s tourism economy, coming just months after the Kingdom opened its doors to foreign tourists. In September 2019, KSA launched a visa initiative for 49 countries, feeding into the long-term plan of weening the economy off of oil.

In late-February, Saudi closed its borders to pilgrims and travellers from 25 countries. The following month, this was extended to all travel in and out of the country.

“I can tell you that the safety and security of the people comes first, Haj and Umra are the kind of events that bring millions of people together in one location and if there is not enough comfort for the government to go ahead, the risk is very high.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the worst-hit countries in the region, reporting more than 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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