In 2021, a German adventurer embarked on a journey through Saudi Arabia and decided to document his experiences in a unique way – by couch surfing. Stephan Orth’s idea was a bold one, given that Saudi Arabia is not typically thought of as a tourist destination, and the options for budget-friendly accommodations were limited. However, he was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality he encountered and ultimately published a book about his unforgettable journey.
Fast forward to 2023, and it seems that Saudi Arabia is taking steps to boost its tourism industry. The Ministry of Tourism has approved a new bylaw that allows citizens to rent out their homes to tourists, potentially opening up a whole new world of affordable accommodation options. This move could pave the way for platforms like Airbnb to make a significant impact in the country, catering to the growing demand for unique and affordable travel experiences.
It’s clear that perceptions about travel in Saudi Arabia are evolving, with more and more people interested in exploring the country beyond the confines of a luxury hotel. Stephan Orth’s experience couch surfing in Saudi Arabia proved that preconceived notions about the country were incorrect, and he was overwhelmed by the warm hospitality he received. His book is a testament to the power of travel to challenge our assumptions and broaden our horizons.
Tourism in Saudi Arabia’s Future
Tourism is seen as a crucial part of the country’s economic diversification plan, and the Saudi government is making significant investments to create a thriving tourism industry. In the lead up to Saudi Vision 2030, the National Tourism Strategy aims to transform the country into a world-class tourist destination. Saudi Arabia has a rich cultural heritage, ancient history, and stunning natural beauty, which, when combined with the recent improvements to its hospitality, transportation, and leisure facilities, makes it an attractive destination for tourists.
To achieve this goal, the country has been making efforts to improve its infrastructure for tourism. It has been investing in the construction of new hotels and resorts, upgrading and expanding its airports, and developing new tourist destinations such as the Red Sea Project. In addition, the country is working to improve its transportation networks, including the expansion of highways and the development of high-speed rail networks, to make it easier for tourists to travel around the country. The government is also promoting the country’s rich cultural heritage by restoring and preserving historical sites, such as Jeddah’s old city and the Diriyah heritage site.
Why Use Airbnb in Saudi Arabia?
The new bylaw approved by the Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Al Khateeb, has created a more favorable environment for investment in the tourism industry and made it easier for citizens to offer property rentals through platforms like Airbnb. To rent out properties through the platform, citizens will be required to obtain a permit and provide proof of ownership. The properties listed on the platform will have to comply with regulations set by the ministry, such as publishing prices in full, inclusive of all taxes.
In the past, similar property rental services existed in Saudi Arabia, primarily for internal and religious tourism. In religious destinations such as Mecca and Medina, demand for rental properties would increase during religious months such as Ramadan and for the yearly Has (and Umrah during the year), and many families preferred to stay in a villa instead of a hotel for cost and comfort reasons.
In tourist cities like Abha and Albaha, open-air sitting areas called Istirahat would be available, along with accompanying accommodation facilities. The management of these properties was usually done through real estate management companies, who had the knowledge of the Saudi market, regulations, and network.
Jeddah businessman Ahmed Al Ghamdi believes that the move will change the game for the travel industry and increase jobs and overall performance of the tourism and hospitality sector. “Saudis are by nature hospitable, and now people will get a chance to experience our homes and hospitality first-hand,” he said.
In conclusion, the approval of the new tourism law and the investment in the country’s tourism industry make Saudi Arabia an attractive market for Airbnb. With its rich cultural heritage, ancient history, and nature, the country hast the potential to attract international tourists and become an attractive destination in the world. The potential for success is significant, and the prospects are promising for Airbnb and other property rental platforms to help give tourists a good experience, drive the country’s economic diversification plan and contribute to the growth.