From e-visas to e-payments, Saudi Arabia prepares for 3 million Chinese visitors by 2030

What Happened: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rolling out the red carpet for Asian tourists.

In the first eight months of 2023, more than 4.1 million travelers from the Asia Pacific region visited Saudi Arabia — a 15 percent jump from the same period in 2019, according to Saudi Tourism Authority (STA).

By 2030, the nation plans to attract 150 million tourists from around the world, 3 million of whom will be from China. This is a core part of Saudi Vision 2030, the country’s blueprint for economic diversification, with tourism expected to contribute to 10 percent of GDP, up from 4.45 percent in 2023.

“We invite Asia Pacific travelers to enjoy an authentic Saudi Hafawah experience,” said Alhasan Aldabbagh, President of Asia Pacific Markets at Saudi Tourism Authority, in a release. “This warm, welcoming hospitality is deeply embedded in our culture and reflected in everything we do, including our continued efforts to ensure that visitors enjoy hassle-free travel and unique, memorable experiences that provide a glimpse into our heritage.”

The Jing Take: Saudi Arabia has taken many steps to prepare for an influx of Chinese tourists.

With a lengthy visa application process being one of the key hurdles to Chinese outbound travel, Saudi Arabia has streamlined its visa services, offering e-visas in just under three minutes as well as visas on arrival. This is a one-year, multiple entry visa that allows tourists from 63 countries, including Greater China, to spend up to 90 days in Saudi Arabia. China is also among the approved countries that can enjoy a one-night free hotel stay as part of Saudi Arabia’s 96-hour Stopover Visa program.

To make travel even more convenient, Saudi Arabia has worked to cultivate bilateral relations with the world’s second-largest economy, achieving Approved Destination Status in September. This means that Chinese citizens can travel to the kingdom in group tours. In the months leading up to the signing, the country launched direct flights from Beijing to Jeddah and Beijing to Riyadh, as well as daily flights from Guangzhou, to support the increased connectivity.

Boulevard, Jeddah’s luxury outdoor shopping mall, features high-end brands like Prada and Gucci. Photo: Saudi Tourism Authority

Additionally, Saudi Arabia has started collaborating with Chinese companies to roll out digital services and payment solutions. UnionPay, a major Chinese bank card provider, already enjoys over 60 percent coverage across local merchants, while Alipay+ signed a Memorandum of Understanding with STA this year to enable cashless payments for global shoppers.

A recent partnership with Huawei will also see more marketing campaigns targeted toward Chinese adventurers, along with language translation services and augmented reality-guided tours.

On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “Saudi Arabia” has over 263 million views. Photo: Xiaohongshu

With the hashtag “Saudi Arabia” having over 263 million views on Xiaohongshu, it’s clear that Chinese tourists are interested in a path less trodden. And with the infrastructure it has built in the last few years, Saudi Arabia is ready to welcome them with open arms.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.



Global, Travel