The Evolution of Tourism in Saudi Arabia: A Historical Perspective


Tourism in Saudi Arabia has come a long way since the country’s inception. The transformation has been dramatic, and today, Saudi Arabia is a top tourist destination in the Middle East. This article takes a historical perspective to understand the evolution of tourism in Saudi Arabia, from its humble beginnings to the thriving industry it is today.

Early Days of Tourism in Saudi Arabia

Tourism in Saudi Arabia has its roots in religious pilgrimages. As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia has been a popular destination for Muslims from all over the world. The Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and a religious duty for all Muslims who can afford the trip.

However, the early days of tourism in Saudi Arabia were characterized by a lack of infrastructure, limited accommodation options, and restricted access to tourist sites. The government focused primarily on developing the country’s oil sector, and tourism remained a secondary consideration.

Development of Tourism Infrastructure

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Saudi government began to recognize the potential of tourism as a contributor to the national economy. Investments were made in the construction of tourist accommodation, transportation infrastructure, and the promotion of tourist events.

The government also started to actively promote the country’s rich cultural heritage, including its museums and theaters. The establishment of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) in 2000 marked a significant step towards the development of a sustainable tourism industry.

Opening Up to International Tourists

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been making a concerted effort to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues. Tourism has emerged as a key sector for achieving this goal. In 2019, the government introduced a new e-visa system, allowing tourists from 49 countries to visit Saudi Arabia for leisure purposes. This move marked a significant shift in the country’s tourism strategy, as it had previously only issued visas for religious pilgrimages and business trips.

The opening up of Saudi Arabia to international tourists has led to a surge in interest in the country’s best tourist cities and regions. The government has also been promoting various tourist activities, festivals, and nightlife to attract visitors.

Future of Tourism in Saudi Arabia

As part of its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million tourists annually by 2030. The government is investing heavily in mega-projects such as the Red Sea Project, NEOM, and Qiddiya to create world-class tourist destinations. These projects are expected to offer unique experiences, from luxury resorts and entertainment hubs to eco-tourism and adventure tourism options.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia is focusing on the development of sustainable tourism to preserve its natural and cultural heritage. The country is taking measures to ensure that tourism growth does not come at the expense of its environment or historical sites.


The evolution of tourism in Saudi Arabia is a testament to the country’s commitment to diversifying its economy and embracing its rich cultural heritage. From its beginnings as a destination primarily for religious pilgrimages, Saudi Arabia has transformed into a global tourism hotspot, attracting millions of visitors each year. With ambitious plans for the future, the country is poised to become an even more prominent player in the international tourism landscape.

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