Travelers exploring Hegra in AlUla. (photo courtesy of Saudi Tourism Authority)
Saudi Arabia has welcomed millions since its official opening to tourism in 2019, but many don’t know enough about the country, especially travel advisors, to feel confident about selling travel to the new destination.
Travel advisors who want to learn more about Saudi Arabia need look no further for a guide to the country, which is the fastest growing new destination in the world.
As the 12th largest country in the world, it’s home to a welcoming people and a millennia-old history tracing back thousands of years and offering incredible archaeological sites and historic monuments to discover. As part of the country’s relatively new tourism plan, it focuses on preserving and enhancing its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, with new tourism developments like the famous Red Sea Development project focusing on sustainability on a scale never before seen in the industry.
Part of the reason for this new future-focused tourism plan is because the country is also relatively young; the vast majority of the country’s population is young, and therefore eager to grow its tourism industry and welcome more travelers to experience true Saudi Arabian culture, history and more.
An Introduction to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is available to visit without any travel restrictions; unmarried couples and solo women travelers are welcomed without issue. While women travelers are not expected to wear head coverings while in Saudi Arabia, the country does ask women to dress modestly in clothes that cover women’s shoulders and knees.
The country requires visitors to apply for a traveler’s visa, to be completed upon arrival or prior to arrival online. It’s easy to complete and is relatively inexpensive.
Upon arrival, English speakers will be able to find their way easily; many signs and menus are in English, and many residents are able to speak to English with at least partial fluency.
The best time to visit the country is from October to April, when cooler days and less humidity are the norm for most of the country. It’s also during this time when the major cities, like Riyadh, Jeddah and Diriyah, offer their “seasons,” a whole slate of festivals, music events and other social and cultural activities on offer for families, young adults and more.
Shipwrecks and vibrant coral reefs abound in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia. (photo via Saudi Tourism Authority)
To visit Saudi Arabia, travelers can choose nonstop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas or New York City to Jeddah and Riyadh via Saudia, the country’s national air carrier, or can choose other air carriers such as Qatar Airways or Etihad Airways.
Travelers can also easily transit within the country via rental cars, domestic air travel or via trains that connect to the major cities. Driving within Saudi Arabia is safe and easy due to good infrastructure and English signage.
Saudi Arabia’s Hottest Destinations
Saudi Arabia is home to a few large cities that comprise the centers of international travel, as well as one very special destination that offers something totally different. The largest cities are Jeddah, Riyadh, Diriyah and Madinah, while the immersive desert destination of AlUla offers a more luxury-centered, immersive and wellness-centric side to the country, perfect for travelers to unwind and explore its natural wonders.
Jeddah is the city near the Red Sea, and home to plenty of history, like its Old Town, Al Balad, and water-based activities for travelers to enjoy. Whether it be deep sea fishing or diving to view the sea’s incredible coral reefs, no traveler can visit this ancient port city without experiencing some sort of ocean adventure.
Riyadh is the country’s largest city and home to plenty of activities for travelers, from museums to historical sites, art galleries and more. Visit from October to spring to enjoy Riyadh Season, a time of large festivals and cultural gatherings with entertainment galore. Nature experiences include camping at Tumamah National Park, visiting the scenic Edge of the World and more.
Madinah (also spelled Medina), is the religious center of Islam in Saudi Arabia and is connected to Mecca by an efficient rail system. Many of the mosques and religious sites are available only to Muslims, but that shouldn’t deter travelers of other faiths from experiencing this city, where they can explore nearby Mount Uhud and the Madinah Museum.
Lastly is AlUla, a wholly unique destination ripe for luxury travelers to enjoy. Adventure and history abound in this desert landscape, where travelers can find sustainable glamping accommodations, ancient sites dating back thousands of years, like Hegra, the Nabatean sister-city to Petra, and as many adventure experiences as one likes, such as stargazing, which is easily done away from the artificial lights of the major cities.
Aerial view of Hegra in AlUla. (photo courtesy of Saudi Tourism Authority)
Visit Saudi in the Travel Industry
Visit Saudi, the official DMO of the country, is already offering FAM trips to travel advisors and will be debuting a new specialization course within the first part of 2023. It has current partnerships with major consortias including Internova, Signature, Ensemble, Virtuoso and more.
Twenty tour operators are also already offering tours within the country, while this number should grow as 2023 progresses.
There are also two different ways to visit Saudi Arabia on cruises: either by the Red Sea, often visiting Jeddah and other destinations such as Egypt, or by the Persian Gulf, where travelers can also visit Dubai, Qatar and other major destinations in the region.
Rendering of Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. (photo via Marriott International)
What’s Next for Saudi Arabia?
Currently, Saudi Arabia is planning to expand its travel offerings across tour operators and in the hotel and resort industry, as well as with a notable new project called the Red Sea Development.
Partially opening in 2023, the development project expects to offer 16 different resorts across 90 islands, attracting one million visitors each year to enjoy luxury resorts, such as Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Raffles Red Sea, Six Senses Luxury Dunes and more, some of which are expected to open within the next year.
For more information about Saudi Arabia, check out Visit Saudi’s official website.