Visits to Jeddah are on the rise, and this is expected to continue amid efforts to promote domestic tourism and position the wider industry as a significant contributor to economic development. According to the Tourism Information and Research Centre (MAS), the statistical arm of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, domestic tourism spending totalled SR53.5bn ($14.3bn) in 2016, up 42% on SR37.8bn ($10.1bn) in 2012. Mirroring this rise, the number of domestic trips more than doubled, from 21m to 49.9m. The number of trips around the country is expected to surge a further 40% in 2015-20, according to local media, on the back of initiatives to drive sector growth and encourage Saudis to explore their nation. Jeddah, along with Riyadh, Makkah and Medina, are all expected to benefit.
Old & New
Following a three-year urban regeneration project, Jeddah’s 2500-year-old city centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, due to its history as a major Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade port. UNESCO noted that for centuries it was one of the most important trade settlements, and its centre contains some of the last remaining examples of architecture “combining Red Sea coastal coral building traditions with influences and crafts from along the trade routes”.
Alongside this rejuvenation are several long-term initiatives aimed at broadening the entertainment, retail and hospitality offering. Central to this plan is the staging of multiple festivals each year, including the Jeddah Heritage Festival and the Jeddah Summer Festival. In July 2017 the latter attracted 1.5m visitors and generated an estimated SR2bn ($533.2m).
In July 2017 Hani bin Mohammed Abu Ras, the mayor of Jeddah, announced that the northern corniche project, which spans 700,000 sq metres, was 80% complete. The SR800m ($213.3m) initiative is designed to accommodate 120,000 people and will include various public areas, such as 275,000 sq metres of green space, a 125-metre fishing pier and 17 hiking trails. In other seaside developments, in September 2017 it was announced that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) would be spearheading the 5m-sq-metre New Jeddah Downtown project along the southern Red Sea coast. The SR18bn ($4.8bn) development is expected to create 36,000 jobs, comprise residential and commercial buildings, and offer entertainment, retail and hospitality space. Construction will begin in 2019, with completion of the first phase expected in 2022.
Efforts to expand entertainment and recreation in Jeddah support the Vision 2030 target of increasing household spending on domestic cultural and entertainment activities from 2.9% in 2016 to 6%. To help deliver this, the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) was created in 2016, and tasked with organising, developing and leading the entertainment sector. This represents a significant pivot in the conservative Kingdom, and forms part of the wider social and cultural shift Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is working to engender.
With some 1m Saudis visiting Dubai over public holidays in 2017, according to international media reports, the local economy would benefit from GEA attempts to redirect visitor traffic to the country. “By the end of 2030 the company’s projects aim to serve more than 50m visitors annually and create more than 22,000 jobs in the Kingdom, which will contribute around SR8bn ($2.1bn) to GDP,” the GEA told media in September 2017.
In August 2017 The Red Sea project, another major component of the national entertainment initiative, was unveiled. It involves the development of 200 km of the northern Red Sea coast, including some 50 islands, and 34,000 sq km between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh. The area will be governed by independent laws and a regulatory framework different from those applied in the rest of the country, according to a report issued by the PIF, which will be responsible for financing the project through international partnerships. The initial groundbreaking is expected in the third quarter of 2019, with completion of the first phase in late 2022.
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