In the first half of 2022, Saudi Arabia’s foreign passenger traffic more than tripled as the country relaxed travel restrictions, welcomed Umrah pilgrims, and profited from a slow but steady increase in demand for long-haul flights.

According to Mohammed Alkhuraisi, Vice President of Strategy at the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), the number of foreign passengers passing through the kingdom’s airports increased to 16.6 million in the first six months of the year from 4.5 million in the same period of 2021. He further claimed that international traffic had recovered to roughly 70% of its pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The Saudi Aviation Strategy calls for establishing a new flag carrier, increasing the number of destinations from 99 to 250, and doubling the annual passenger volume to 330 million by 2030. This strategy is backed by $100 billion in investments from the government and private sector.

The second half of 2022 will see growth spurred by the kingdom hosting major events like the Future Investment Initiative in October and the World Travel & Tourism Council global summit in Riyadh in November, as well as the high summer travel season from July to September.

Saudi Arabia is lowering airport fees for airlines at the major airports in the kingdom by between 10% and 35% in an effort to boost competition in the aviation industry and draw in more travelers. According to Mr. Alkhuraisi, the cut would likely be implemented in the fourth quarter of this year.

Additionally, the kingdom is moving ahead with its plans to privatize its airports in an effort to diversify its oil-based economy and draw more investment to the aviation industry.