Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) launched a new venture that will invest $3 billion in developing tourism and infrastructure in the southwestern Asir region, the state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.
The kingdom, which opened its doors in September 2019 to foreign tourists by launching a new visa regime for 49 countries, hopes to diversify its oil-dependent economy through tourism and wants the sector to contribute 10 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has long pushed the PIF as a central plank in his plan to find ways of driving growth while weaning the economy off its dependence on oil. Crude exports still account for more than half the kingdom’s income.
The Soudah Development Company (SDC) will develop Soudah, a mountainous area located 3,015 metres (9,892 ft) above sea level, and the ancient village of Rijal Alma’, into a tourist destination for residents and visitors. It aims to contribute an estimated $8 billion to the kingdom’s cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
The Asir region and its capital, Abha, are a favourite destination for Saudis and foreign residents for its pleasant cool and humid climate, making it ideal for short holidays to escape the desert weather in most of the kingdom.
SDC will partner with the private sector to build 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units, and 30 commercial and entertainment attractions by 2030, the state press agency SPA said in a statement. It aims to attract over 2 million visitors annually and create 8,000 direct and indirect jobs for young Saudis.
While the nascent tourism sector was hit hard by the measures taken by the government to fight the coronavirus pandemic, local tourism campaigns to Abha and other destinations helped to partially attract millions of dollars Saudis used to spend overseas.
To boost the domestic economy, the PIF plans to invest at least 150 billion riyals ($40 billion) annually in the local economy until 2025.