By Staff writer
Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb reported as saying hopes are high for a fast recovery
Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry could take a hit of up to 45 percent this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just months after the kingdom flung open its doors to the world in launching a new visa scheme for 49 countries in September last year, the Covid-19 outbreak slammed the shutters closed, with widespread measures implemented to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
This included closing its borders to overseas umrah pilgrims and to tourists from at least 25 countries at the start of March. While later in the month, all travel in and out of the country was suspended.
The containment measures have dented the kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy away from oil, and have tourism contribute 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2030.
“We believe this year the impact will be in the range of 35 percent – 45 percent decline, compared to last year, depending on how fast we will reopen the country and receive visitors,” Ahmed al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, said in an interview with news agency Reuters.
“The sector has been severely impacted, hotels globally are suffering today from very low occupancy ratios, it is the case here in Saudi Arabia as well. We hope things get better in the next few weeks and we have a fast recovery.”
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia joined nations around the world in gradually loosing restrictions that were put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The kingdom partially lifted a 24-hour curfew in all regions except Makkah and will allow resumption of some commercial and economic activities.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims usually flock to the kingdom for the week-long haj ritual, expected to take place in July this year. But Saudi Arabia has urged Muslims to wait before making plans to attend until there’s more clarity about the deadly coronavirus pandemic.