(MENAFN - Arab News) The number of tourists heading to the Kingdom is expected to reach 15.8 million by 2014, up from around 13 million in 2010, according to international industry consultant Business Monitor International (BMI).
The Saudi hospitality sector will grow in tandem with some 381,000 new hotel rooms expected by 2015, representing 63 percent of additional room stock against 2010 inventories, driven by business, religious and domestic tourists.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia recorded positive results in three key areas: occupancy, rate and revpar (revenue per available room). Occupancy levels rose by 8.6 percent to 58.2 percent, while revenue per available room grew by an impressive 17.4 percent to 120 and average daily rates increased by 8.1 percent to reach 206.
Consistent with those results, Arabian Travel Market (ATM) exhibition has seen visitor registrations up by 118 percent. The number of visitors interested in buying travel products and services from the Kingdom has risen 116 percent to 1,168 compared with the same period last year, witnessing strong online visitor interest months ahead of the event from travel professionals in the Kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia continues to focus on its tourism industry, as it looks to diversify away from its dependence on oil, with revenues from tourism accounting for around 3.6 percent of GDP," said Mark Walsh of Reed Travel Exhibitions.
"The tourism authority has announced it aims to attract 88 million tourists by 2020, as the Kingdom focuses on developing religious tourism and business travel in particular," he added.
Religious tourism remains the main reason for overseas visitors to the Kingdom. More than half of the inbound visitors travel to Makkah and Madinah, making them the major focus of investment in hotels.
The Kingdom issued 9.5 million religious visas last year, an 11.3 percent increase from 2010, according to the Ministry of Haj website, with Umrah visas rising by one million in 2011. Nearly two million foreign pilgrims arrived to perform Haj last year.
The Saudi government is undertaking major infrastructure initiatives to provide better services to pilgrims, including enhancement of the Holy Mosque in Makkah as well as expanding and upgrading King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Madinah Airport, besides an aggressive marketing strategy.