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Saudi Arabia- Religious tourism all set to rise


In a major announcement recently, Religious tourism seems to be the next large contributor towards its economy and to give it a boost.


The Saudi Arabia Government has plans to remove certain constraints on the visas issued to its Muslim travellers. It also declared reforms which seek to move the kingdom in a different direction and reduce its over-reliance on oil.

This means that pilgrims, who travel to Mecca and Medina for their mandatory Hajj pilgrimage, will now be able to increase the length of their stay and will also be able to stop over at sites and cities which are non-religious in nature. This will indirectly fuel the influx of tourists and also increase the duration of their holiday.


Hurdles for religious tourism

Presently, religious pilgrims have many restrictions on where and when to travel while they visit the country but concerned authorities are confident of removing certain visa restrictions.

The Saudi Arabia tourism industry depends heavily on the Hajj Pilgrimage, which happens during the 12th month as per the Islamic Calendar and also on the Umrah pilgrimages. These religious trips contribute USD 12 billion while the tourism industry is responsible for 2.7% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP. It is obvious that the Hajjis are the biggest contributors to these figures.


As per the Council for Economic and Developmental Affairs, by the year 2020, 15 million religious tourists will visit their country to perform Umrah, as compared to 8 million this year and the figure will further grow to 30 million by the year 2030. The growth will push the annual contribution from tourism to USD 20 Billion in the next four years.


Prince Sultan bin Salman, who presently heads the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage wants pilgrims to visit other places like Nabatean rock tombs and rock drawings in Madain Saleh near Medina once their religious duties are completed. They plan to highlight other tourist places which will inspire tourists to go further into the kingdom and explore these locales too.


Government’s steps to promote religious tourism

The Saudi Arabia Government in conjunction with the Council is taking up many infrastructure projects like improving railway connectivity between Mecca, Jeddah, Medina and various urban centres.

Michael Petraglia, Oxford University Professor, leads a large team of archaeologists in Saudi Arabia for excavations which could become major tourist attractions in the near future. Najran, Jubba and Shuwaymiyah are some excavations which have tremendous potential to become open-air museums for some amazing rock art.


Saudi Arabia has four world heritage sites as declared by UNESCO and many such sites are further being examined for this status. In what is being touted as an important step towards boosting tourism, a Red Sea Bridge was recently announced which would link the Kingdom to Egypt thus opening up a hitherto unexplored avenue. The 90 million Egyptians could well open up the tourism market via this brand new pilgrimage route and attract a large number of tourists than before.

Saudi Arabia seems to have done its homework well and is all set to look at unexplored horizons, other than oil, to boost its economy.


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