An aerial picture showing the Red Sea cost in Saudi Arabia.
Franck Fife | AFP | Getty Images
SINGAPORE — There’s no better time than now for Saudi Arabia to build its new tourist attractions, the kingdom’s tourism minister told CNBC this week.
“It is absolutely the right time … because as we all know, the costs, in a crisis, become much, much more attractive and therefore, this is the time to build,” Ahmed al-Khateeb told Hadley Gamble in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
The coronavirus pandemic triggered economic troubles around the world, with travel and tourism being hit hard. Despite some borders reopening, the industry has seen a slow recovery and weak demand.
It couldn’t be better than this time for any government to invest in building.
Saudi Arabia’s tourism minister
According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, global tourism could be set back 20 years because of Covid-19. But Saudi Arabia last month announced that it would invest $810 billion into massive tourism projects over the next 10 years.
These projects are part of the kingdom’s push to diversify the economy away from energy reliance, and include plans such as the development of the futuristic city of Neom.
Asked if this was the right time to pour money into the sector given the uncertainty, al-Khateeb said it is a “golden opportunity” for the kingdom because the labor is available and the cost of materials is much lower than before.
“It couldn’t be better than this time for any government to invest in building,” he said.
The attractions are meant to come online from around 2023 or 2024, and al-Khateeb said he hopes the pandemic would be over by then, and “we will be ready to run.”
Global passenger traffic is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association.
“We’re not investing for the short term,” said al-Khateeb. “We are very optimistic over … the short and long term, this pandemic will be behind us.”
Saudi Arabia relied nearly exclusively on religious tourism until 2019, when it offered its first tourist visas. By 2030, the kingdom wants to attract 100 million visitors annually and have tourism make up 10% of its gross domestic product.