A new report reveals that Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry could sustain a substantial loss of up to 45 percent this year as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Even though the ultra-conservative kingdom opened its doors to international tourists for the first time last September as part of a broader push to cut its economic dependence on oil, the COVID-19 outbreak slammed the shutters closed as Saudi authorities had to implement strict measures in order to contain the spread of the deadly disease, according to the report published by the Arabian Business weekly magazine on Sunday.
On February 26, Saudi Arabia announced it has suspended entry for individuals aiming to perform Umrah pilgrimage or to visit the Prophet's Mosque in Medina over concerns of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a post published on its official Twitter page at the time that the decision was one of the three precautions taken by the Saudi government to "provide the utmost protections for the safety of citizens and residents and everyone who intends to come to the territory of the Kingdom to perform Umrah or visit the Prophet's Mosque or for the purpose of tourism."
#Statement | Proactive Preventive Measures to Prevent the Arrival of the New Coronavirus (#COVID19) to the Kingdom pic.twitter.com/fuBAWq19Du— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) February 26, 2020
Umrah, a lesser pilgrimage compared to the annual Hajj, involves a visit to Saudi Arabia where Islam's holiest site Kaaba is located.
Moreover, all travel in and out of the country was suspended in March.
Some 2.5 million million Muslims come to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina each year to make the Hajj pilgrimage.
But Saudi authorities have urged Muslims to wait before making plans to attend since there needs to be more clarity about the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe this year the impact will be in the range of 35 percent – 45 percent decline, compared to last year, depending on how fast we will reopen the country and receive visitors,” Ahmed al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, said in an interview with Reuters news agency on April 24.
“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.
Saudi Arabia has indicated that it wants to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030 with the Riyadh regime expecting to create one million tourism jobs as well.
At an international conference in October 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled plans to build a new city and business zone, known as NEOM, which officials say will be backed up by more than $500 billion in investment.
The so-called city of the future is conceived to span an area of 26,500 square kilometers, stretching across the borders of northwest Saudi Arabia into Jordan and Egypt.
According to an unnamed Saudi official, Riyadh plans to build seven cities and tourism projects, while Egypt will focus on developing the existing resort cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.
All these come as Saudi Arabia faces a tarnished international image amid criticism of its human rights record following the gruesome murder of US-based renowned journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and a heavy-handed crackdown on women's rights activists.
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