Religious tourism reaches new levels in 2012
Expansion in the Hajj facilities ranging from expanded routes and roads, better transportation facilities, restaurants and accommodation directly impacted Hajj visitors in 2012. According to the Ministry of Hajj, the number of pilgrims jumped by 6% in 2012. Government and private sector efforts contributed to the increase in the number of pilgrims in 2012. Mega projects such as the Mecca Metro was a key element to increase in Hajj capacity in 2012. The Metro operated 20 trains with a capacity of 3,500 pilgrims per trip which transported 500,000 pilgrims from Makkah to Mina and then from Mina to Arafat in just over six hours. Other projects in accommodation, airports, and roads were completed to serve the increasing numbers of worshippers all year long.
Tourism authority diversification efforts drive inbound tourism
The continued efforts by The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) to diversify the portfolio of its visitors showed positive signs within the different travel and tourism categories, increasing the number of arrivals in 2012. In addition to the increase in pilgrims in 2012, the country witnessed new levels of inbound leisure and business travellers seeking non-religious activities within the country. Between 2011 and 2012, the Tourism Commission organised more than 33 festivals and events in the country. The events involved cultural, social, heritage, sports, and entertainment activities that meet the aspirations of all social categories. The two weeks Janadriyah Festival is one major event that takes place annually and includes the display of regional architecture, cuisine, craft, markets, dances and folklore.
Decline in domestic tourism in Saudi Arabia
Many Saudis and expatriates residing in Saudi Arabia are looking for entertainment outside of the Kingdom due to the strict religious ruling over personal lifestyle options. The lack of comparable local entertainment attractions such as cinemas, un-segregated restaurants and common areas, and more personal freedom to young men and women are driving many Saudis and expatriates to seek entertainment elsewhere. Regional and International Tourism with newly-introduced budget airline destinations attracted many Saudis to travel outside of the Kingdom at affordable prices. NAS Air, Air Arabia, flydubai, Jazeera Airways, and Bahrain Air are all budget airlines that fly to several destinations. Such increases in budget airline operators positively impacted departure figures in 2012.
Launch of new remote historic sites impact car rentals
The government tried new approaches to attract visitors to the Kingdom’s rich historic and natural resources. In 2012, the government opened the doors to tourists to visit Mada'in Saleh archaeological site which is a pre-Islamic site. The site is the largest conserved site of the civilisation of the Nabataeans. The site features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. The country’s expansion to promote its historic locations, which are usually located in remote areas, positively impacted car rental’s growth rate in 2012.
A positive outlook for travel and tourism
The government of Saudi Arabia is planning further expansion in travel and tourism to allow 88 million visitors by 2020. Regulations and sectors that involve tourism are all being updated to accommodate this target. Additionally, the government is providing facilities and easy loans to developers to invest in tourism in the Kingdom. Real estate investments in hotels in Mecca are expected to exceed US$3.2 billion. Along with the Harrams expansion in Mecca and Madina, other supporting facilities are also being developed such as the Jabal Omar Development. The development is the located in the western side of the city and is spread over 230,000 sq m. It will accommodate up to 100,000 people in 15,000 luxury hotel rooms. The city will feature 4,000 shops, 500 restaurants, and one six-storey prayer hall accommodating 65,000 worshipers. Such mega projects will positively enhance travel and tourism and all of its categories such as accommodation, car rental, and land and air transportation.
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