Saudis visit the UAE to shop and explore the country's cultural heritage
UAE ramps up efforts to attract Saudi visitors following kingdom's entertainment reforms
Tourism operators in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are increasing efforts to attract more visitors from Saudi Arabia to the UAE.
They are using social media influencers, hosting delegations from the kingdom and promoting high-profile attractions such Louvre Abu Dhabi and Warner Brothers on Yas Island in an effort to draw more tourists.
While Saudi citizens can now enjoy a trip to the cinema and public music concerns at home after a series of reforms by the government, many still like to make the journey to the Emirates.
Abu Dhabi welcomed 4.9 million hotel guests last year and Saudi Arabia represented 151,496 of these – an increase of 3 per cent on 2016.
About 60 flights leave the kingdom for the UAE every day, and visitors say the culture, Unesco World Heritage sites of Al Ain, traditional markets and smaller towns offer a peaceful escape from their busy lives.
“I love Al Ain because of its heritage and identity. It is simple and calm, unlike Dubai and Sharjah. My favourite place in Al Ain is the beautiful [Jebel] Hafeet mountain,” said one visitor, Amal Alothaimeen, from Riyadh who visits the UAE every other year.
“I hope to visit the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi someday,” she said.
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Like Ms Alothaimeen, many Saudis are interested in learning more about the UAE’s heritage.
“I like to visit the historical places where I can find old traditional artefacts. I also like to visit the small towns that not many people know about to get a better sense of the culture and take trips in the country’s nature.” said Reem Moraisel.
Ms Moraisel is from south-western region of Al Baha, but her love for the Emirates motivated her and her family to move to Dubai.
Summer in Abu Dhabi has traditionally been a quiet time, but that is also changing. The capital’s 162 hotels and hotel apartments drew 339,592 visitors during June, an increase of more than 19,000 on the previous year.
They were attracted by programmes such as Abu Dhabi Summer Season that runs until August 18 and includes concerts, theatre and comedy shows.
On July 25, passengers aboard Saudi Airlines Flight 570 to Abu Dhabi were surprised to find that their bags had new luggage tags attached with many prizes in celebration of the summer festival. The prizes included vouchers with discounts on restaurants, leading hotels and resorts from all over the capital.
Dubai, meanwhile, reported 4.7 million international overnight visitors in the first quarter of 2018. While the numbers of Saudis dropped slightly, they remain a target for the emirate.
Dubai’s tourism chiefs have announced an alliance with Al Tayyar Travel Group, a Saudi travel and tourism company, in an effort to draw Saudis to the emirate.
Al Mosafer, a tourism site run by Al Tayyar, is working with Saudi influencers to promote offers. Among them is Mohammed Alnhet, a "YouTuber" and social media influencer who has more than 770,000 followers on Instagram. Alnhet is developing a series of videos showcasing Dubai’s best attractions.
Other social media influencers such as Muhannad Alharbi and Abdulaziz Barnawi have also been seen promoting the country’s hotspots.
The UAE and Saudi share a border but also have forged a close personal bond over the past few years.
“To me, I personally feel like the UAE is my second home,” said Turki Albakr, a 22-year-old Saudi who spends a lot of his holidays in the Emirates.
“The reasons for visiting this great nation differs between different Saudis and what they are interested in. But I think the main reason so many Saudis visit the UAE, and especially Dubai, is the love and connection we share between us Saudis and our neighbouring Emiratis.”