Saudi Arabia and Oman will lead the GCC’s multi-billion dollar investments in cultural tourism, with a series of projects to develop new world-class attractions, according to a new report.
The research, compiled by Colliers International, said Saudi Arabia is ready to invest up to $2 billion – one of the highest commitments of any government to cultural tourism in the region – with a number of projects and targets set out under Saudi Vision 2030.
Under the vision, by the year 2030, Saudi Arabia will increase the number of public and private museums from 155 to 241, increase the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites from four to 10 and increase the number of archaeological sites suitable to visit from 75 to 155.
In addition, the Gulf kingdom will increase the number of archaeological heritage sites from 10 to 28 and increase the number of activities and cultural events from 190 currently to 400 annually.
The report has been published ahead of Arabian Travel Market, taking place later this month at Dubai World Trade Centre.
Simon Press, senior exhibition director, Arabian Travel Market, said: “Cultural tourism sits perfectly alongside this year’s theme of experiential travel as travellers look to explore destinations and enjoy a more holistic holiday experience. What we see today in Saudi Arabia, and other GCC countries, is an open commitment to strengthen this sector and capitalise on the current global trend.”
In 2015, Oman pledged investments of $2.5 billion for the Omagine Project – a mixed-use development set on 245 acres of prime beachfront facing the Gulf of Oman, which is an integration of cultural, heritage, educational, entertainment and residential elements, the report said.
It added that its completion will add to Oman’s growing cultural tourism sector, which includes 18 museums, four UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Royal Opera House Muscat and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Press said: “Across the GCC, there is a rising demand for authentic and enriching travel, full of experiences and opportunities to learn about the unique history and culture of this region. For this reason, we can expect many more project announcements of this kind over the coming years.”
The report added that Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island will receive a further boost with regional and international visitors when the first of its highly-anticipated museums, opens later this year. By 2020, the island will be home to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zaha Hadid designed, Zayed National Museum.
In Dubai, the $300 million Dubai Opera launched in 2016, with the first shows including Les Miserables and Cats and the emirate has also seen an increase of 127 percent in the number of visitors to its most popular museums and galleries, taking the total number of visitors to 1.75 million in 2015.
At the newly launched Al Habtoor City – home to St Regis Dubai, W and Westin Dubai – 2017 will also see the debut of the region’s first permanent show, La Perle.
With over 450 performances per year, the show is to be presented in a 1,300 seat, purpose-built, state-of-the-art theatre, filled with 2.7 million litres of water.
Craig Hartenstine, executive producer, La Perle, said: “The arrival of La Perle at Al Habtoor City marks a new chapter for live performance in the Middle East. This will be the first time in the region a show will become a permanent destination-defining attraction to be enjoyed by visitors all year round.”
In Qatar, where a year-round calendar of culture and performance events has played a significant role in driving visitor demand, a number of new attractions are also under development.
The projects, headed by Qatar Museum Authority, have so far included Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Orientalist Museum. Over the coming year these museums will be joined by the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel.
This year’s ATM will have a wide variety of emirates and countries focusing on culture in their strategies, including Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.