The importance of religious tourism for Saudi Arabia

By Cassam Tupsy

Anybody staying at a particular destination for more than 24 hours and less than one year is counted as a tourist. Travelers need to be away from home and from their immediate environment temporarily. In fact, this industry has become the backbone of many destinations’ economy. Due to its fragility, the tourism industry needs an efficient management. One should not kill the goose to take out all the golden eggs at once. Tourism must be environmentally friendly in order to become more resilient. Sustainable tourism is extremely lucrative for all tourist receiving countries.

Actually, in the beginning, voyage undertaken by the travelers was related to religion. In the 17th century people were encouraged to take bath in the spas, located on the mountains. This practice was done on the recommendation of their Doctors. The belief that bathing in the spa could cure many diseases motivated people to travel domestically in huge number.  They were accommodated in monasteries built by the churches. Entertainments were in form of meditation and prayers. Holy days were attributed to such type of travel.

But in the long run entertainments took a new dimension at the spas. Travel became more secular in nature and indecent activities at the spas converted the Holydays into holidays. Later on people on the advice of their Doctors thronged to the sea due to the fact that sea water is more beneficial to our health.  

Tourism in Saudi Arabia

A historical monument in Saudi Arabia

However, holiday tourism outnumbers religious tourism in form and activities. But religious tourism generates colossal revenue for Saudi Arabia in form of taxation, multiplier effect and by attracting inward investment. The two Harams, that is Makkah and Madinah, alone are pull factors and can bring about 25 million tourists per year. If one million people are granted visas for a fortnight, then it makes 2 million per month* by 12 which amounts to 24 million visitors performing religious rituals yearly.

Besides, religious tourism Saudi Arabia can become a destination of business tourism par excellence. On top of it, MICE Tourism (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) also can take place. The country may also benefit from leisure tourism by marketing its various tourist resorts and ancient monuments which comprises the Masmak Fortress, Hegra, Almasjid an Nbawi, Kaaba, Nassif House Museum, Jawatha Park, the Murabba Palace and the Khyber Pass.  Arabian History and culture can become a matter of concern for foreigners by developing their intellectual curiosity. 

Rural tourism may offer a wide range of attractions, dull villages, tribal life of the Bedouins, the eco-system of the desert with attractive cactus plants and fauna.  Oasis with water ponds, dates plants, camel breeding and agricultural fields and felds. On the other hand, Skyscrapers and tourist infrastructure in Jeddah, Riyadh and Tabuk may give rise to urban tourism.

The rise in holiday tourist may increase if aggressive marketing is done by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism. About 24,000 holiday makers visited the country in 2023. However, an overall revenue generated from tourism amount to 65 billion $, contributing 4.5 % to the GDP of the country. A diversification of Saudi economy is primordial in order to reduce its dependency on the petroleum industry.

Some other destinations which offer religious tourism in the world are the Vatican in Italy, Lourdes in France, Kashi and Mathurah in India, the mausoleum of Guru Nanak in Punjab and other religious sanctuaries. Expenditures incurred by visitors at these religious places are highly significant in monetary term because it gives rise to the expenditure- income cycle.