Middle East becomes new holiday hit for Chinese tourists
Published: Sep 24, 2023 08:16 PM

Seagulls take to the air as the Dubai skyline, including the world's tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa, can be seen in the background. Photo: AFP

Seagulls take to the air as the Dubai skyline, including the world's tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa, can be seen in the background. Photo: AFP


Visiting Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world and one of the landmark buildings in Dubai, wandering around the At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah to take a look at the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, discovering the thrills of a desert safari… many countries in the Middle-East region have become new destinations for Chinese tourists, with a huge influx expected during the upcoming Golden Week holidays. 

Several working staff at traveling agencies based in different cities in China told the Global Times that the number of Chinese tourists booking or asking about trips to countries in the Middle East has increased in recent weeks. 

 Egypt, Turkey and Iran remain the most popular tourist destinations among Chinese tourists, although Saudi Arabia and the UAE are getting more attention, especially from young people, an agent at a Guangxi-based travel agency told the Global Times.

The agency offers various tours, including taking a helicopter, balloon or yacht to enjoy the natural scenery and the landscape of desert cities. The cost for different tours range from 10,000 to 30,000 yuan ($1,370 to $4,110). 

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia was officially granted approved destination status (ADS) by China, which is a significant milestone for the country that will drive greater connectivity with China and unlock new opportunities across the tourism ecosystem, according to a release sent to the Global Times from the Saudi tourism authority. 

At the signing ceremony for the agreement, His Excellency Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the tourism minister of Saudi Arabia, said that underpinned by China's Belt and Road Initiative and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the two nations are unlocking limitless opportunities and driving forward mutually beneficial collaboration. 

"The ADS status is expected to significantly boost inbound travels from China, creating the greater ease of access needed to reach Saudi Arabia's target of attracting 3 million Chinese tourists by 2030," said Al-Khateeb.

Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority, told the Global Times that "the relationship between the governments of the two countries is the best ever" and "China is not like any other country for us." 

Both the Saudi Arabian government and the people welcome Chinese tourists and the country is making all preparations to this end. Hamidaddin said that Saudi Arabia is also streamlining its visa services, offering e-visas in just three minutes and visas on arrival. Additionally, it has also integrated Chinese payment solutions like Union Pay to facilitate seamless payment for Chinese travelers.

The Global Times has learned that in the months leading up to the ADS signing, Saudi Arabia announced several key initiatives with the all-important China market in mind. The country's flag carrier SAUDIA launched direct Jeddah-Beijing and Riyadh-Beijing flights, in addition to daily flights from Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, signifying a growing demand for connectivity between the two nations. 

Some agents at travel agencies reached by the Global Timesexpressed high anticipation for a boom in Chinese tourists to Middle Eastern countries due to the latter's supportive policies to attract Chinese tourists and good relations with China. 

Currently, more Chinese tourists are getting out of the airports in cities of Saudi Arabi and UAE to gain a deeper understanding of these countries instead of treating them as transfer stations for European countries, analysts said, noting that close people-to-people exchanges will also help deepen bilateral relations between China and other countries in the Middle East.