‘Absolutely the right time’ to invest in tourism: Saudi minister

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.

Ahmed al-Khateeb

Saudi Arabia’s tourism minister

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.

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