Domestic tourism in Saudi Arabia soared by 25 percent last year, according to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).
About 23.8 million people travelled within the kingdom in 2013, compared to 19 million the year before, the commission’s research centre revealed.
The increased domestic travel soar local tourism revenues rise to SR28bn ($7.5bn).
Accommodation accounted for one-quarter of all domestic tourism spending, followed by shopping, food, beverages and restaurants, transport and entertainment and recreation.
A recent SCTA report also found tourism also now contributed SR75bn to the kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP), accounting for nearly 3 percent of the total, making it one of the most important industries for the country.
Hotel occupancy was sitting at about 64 percent, according to the report. That compares to well over 80 percent in Dubai.
Tourism also is contributed heavily to boosting employment, particularly among nationals.
“There were more than 203,000 Saudis working in the tourism sector in 2013, accounting for more than 27 percent of the total number of Saudis employed in permanent work,” a SCTA official was quoted as saying by Arab News.
“Tourism is a main creator of jobs and a huge economy booster.
“There are currently more than 1.1 million people employed in this lucrative sector and the number of Saudis employed in tourism and hospitality is expected to exceed the 1.7 million mark by 2020.”
The majority of Saudi Arabia’s tourism is religious, with the kingdom custodians of the two holiest places in Islam, Makkah and Madinah.
Millions of Islamic pilgrims flock to the cities each year for Umrah and Haj and the government is spending about $20bn upgrading and expanding the Grand Mosque to double its capacity.
Foreign investment in hotels also has soared in recent years, with hundreds of projects in the pipeline, while 25 airports are being upgraded, expanded or built and two new airlines have been given approval to start domestic services to help cope with the significant rise in demand.