Saudi plans year-round festival calendar

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Saudi Arabia is planning a year-round events calendar to boost tourism outside of the traditional Hajj and Umrah periods, the head of the kingdom’s tourism commission told Arab News.

Various festivals drawing in domestic and foreign tourists generated SR17bn in revenues in the past eight years, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) president Prince Sultan bin Salman said.

Saudi Arabia, home to many of the holiest Islamic sites, including Makkah, receives majority of its tourism income from pilgrims, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and the last month of the Islamic calendar, when the Hajj is performed.

A decision this year to cut the number of visas issues to pilgrims while a massive restoration and expansion projects is carried out at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Islam’s holiest site, is expected to cause major losses to the tourism industry.

Businesses claim they will lose SR5bn ($1.3bn) in revenue because pilgrims who make the voyage to Makkah will now only be allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia for 14 days.

Prince Sultan said since the creation of the SCTA, tourism employment had increased to 55,000 jobs and a record 55m tourists had travelled to Saudi in the past eight years.

Meanwhile the kingdom had spent SR60m organising events.

“This amount is very small compared to the revenues earned from the festivals,” he said.

He announced plans to boost tourism in the kingdom during 2014-2018, including developing events year-round. Many of the events would target domestic tourism, families and youth.

Prince Sultan said the SCTA had a long-term plan to increase the economic and cultural benefits of tourism.

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