Saudi Arabia has been planning to build a new airport in its capital, Riyadh, according to reports, which would serve as a base for a new airline that the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund is planning to launch in order to meet a large increase in visitor arrivals.
The $430 billion fund said earlier this year that it plans to invest in aviation to diversify the economy away from oil sales by allowing foreigners to visit the kingdom envisioned by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The new airline would serve tourists and business travelers, while the Saudi national carrier would focus on religious tourism from its base in Jeddah. Religious tourism, which also includes year-round pilgrimages to Mecca, brought in more than $20 billion in 2018, equivalent to 2.7% of GDP.
According to the sources, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is considering investing billions in a new international airport in Riyadh. The facility’s size and construction time are yet to be decided, and the PIF could eventually decide not to move ahead with those plans as well.
The project would help Saudi Arabia achieve its goal of attracting 100 million tourists per year by 2030, which would be a six-fold increase from 2019. The project is still in its early stages of development.
While easing some of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, Saudi Arabia hasn’t yet reopened for tourists. It decided to only allow nationals and residents to attend Hajj, which falls next month, for the second year in a row to contain the spread of the coronavirus and its variants.