British tourists, followed by Chinese, were the top visitors, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said in an interview in Riyadh. About 140,000 people requested tourist visas, he added.
The numbers are “in line with our expectations,” said Al-Khateeb, a key adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “We are expecting that the adventurous will come first to explore the country, and this is what is happening.”
He spoke on the sidelines of an event to launch a $17 billion project called Diriyah Gate, a revamp of the historic hometown of the Saudi royal family that officials want to be a major draw for tourists.
While representing an important beginning for the conservative Islamic kingdom, there’s a long way to go before it can compare to long-established regional destinations. Dubai received more than 130,000 Saudi tourists a month on average last year. Officials say they’ll need to add flights and hotel rooms to meet demand as they chase their targets.