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Definition: Riyadh from Philip's Encyclopedia

Capital of Saudi Arabia, in the E central part of the country, c.380km (235mi) inland from the Persian Gulf. In the early 19th century, it was the domain of the Saudi dynasty, becoming capital of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The chief industry is oil refining. Pop. (2002) 3,627,700.

Summary Article: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
from The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Travel and Tourism

Riyadh is located at the heart of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula. It is the largest city in the country, with an area of 1,300 square kilometers (500 mi2). It is the capital of Saudi Arabia and of Riyadh Province. According to the city's website, Riyadh's population in 2016 was approximately 6.5 million inhabitants, made up of 64% Saudi families and 36% non-Saudi families; the Diplomatic Quarter was created specifically for embassies and the diplomats.

The Saudi capital is not a usual international tourist destination; however, it is popular for domestic leisure tourism. Al Riyadh, one of the key cities of the Middle East, was the fastest growing city for domestic tourism in 2013, with domestic arrivals increasing by 10% and reaching 2,984,300 trips. This entry continues by explaining the reasons Riyadh is a top tourist destination and describing Riyadh's tourism policy, planning, and promotion.

Reasons the City Is a Top Tourist Destination

Riyadh represents a destination mainly for business, shopping, and cultural tourism. Leisure tourism is also expanding. Riyadh offers the most upscale and luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Marriot, and Sheraton) compared with other Saudi cities. The city is a modern metropolis combining different urban construction styles. It is the main business city of the country, with the largest economic activity, and is the center of business tourism. It hosts many multinational companies, and business tourism is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4% until 2022.

What mostly attracts domestic visitors to Riyadh is shopping, which is the key economic driver of the tourism industry on the national level. Riyadh has large shopping malls with renowned international brands, attractive gaming, and entertainment areas. Malls organize tourist events, shows, and marketing opportunities for families. Riyadh participated in the country's tourism festivals by organizing the Shopping and Entertainment Festival in 2013, which continues to be a popular event in the city.

For nature and adventure lovers (usually expatriates), there are beautiful sand dunes for four-wheel drive outings and deserts for camping surround Riyadh. The large Wadi Hanifa Park is a popular tourist destination for recreational and outdoor activities such as hiking. It features natural landscapes, eco-friendly roads, water channels, and open parks. The environmental recovery of the Wadi Hanifa Park won many awards, including the Water Center Award for the year 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Riyadh's cultural and historical heritage is also significant. At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah located at the northwest of Riyadh is one of the Saudi UNESCO World Heritage sites. The site includes ruins of many palaces and an urban ensemble with the Najdi architectural style dating from the 15th century. Riyadh also has a historical area with castles, forts such as the Masmak Fort, and museums such as the National Museum and the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum.

The city is also known for its annual Janadriyah Festival, which showcases the kingdom's heritage in exhibitions, halls, and a theater. The capital also organizes food festivals held in prestigious hotels (Four Seasons, InterContinental, and Sheraton) with participation from other countries. In summary, Riyadh is a city that combines the past with the present and the future, a mix of modernity and cultural heritage.

Tourism Policy

Saudi Arabia is known for its strict laws and regulations. Riyadh strictly abides by these laws, whereas other cities are more lenient. Certain laws discourage international foreigners to visit the city:

  • No tourist visas are given to foreigners unless they are families of expatriates (entry without a visa allowed only for Kuwaitis, Bahrainis, Qataris, and Emiratis).

  • Foreigners wishing to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) need to have specific local sponsorship.

  • Religious law stipulates that a black abaya and head cover is obligatory for women at all times; women and men cannot be seen together unless they are a family (this is less strict in Jeddah and the Diplomatic Quarter).

  • “Saudization” is a nationalization plan to encourage hiring of more Saudis and fewer expats.

The Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) manages policies specific to tourism, with clear vision and mission statements. The mission is to facilitate sustainable and balanced tourism development in the kingdom through the formulation of clear policies in close partnership with industry leaders and the private sector and to strengthen the tourism industry to achieve the highest degree of self-sufficiency. For instance, a tourism investment services center was established to facilitate communication with investors. The vision statement is for Saudi Arabia to be aware of its traditional values and unique parameters and for tourism to be diverse economically, to be socially enriching, and to create employment opportunities for its citizens while at the same time preserving environmental and cultural authenticity.

Tourism Planning

The Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market (STTIM) organizes workshops and conferences that gather experts and specialists in the field. The 7th session of the market was held by the SCTA in Riyadh in March and April 2014, with the participation of the governor of Riyadh and the Riyadh Tourism Development Council. The main objectives of this conference were to promote investment opportunities and improve tourism services in the country. It also focused on the role of the youth in the tourism sector.

The SCTA wants to develop the country's tourism industry by developing its product offerings (sites and destinations) through investments. The governor of Riyadh affirmed scheduled projects and programs in a Tourism Development Council meeting in April 2013. According to the plan developed by the council, Riyadh will benefit from SCTA's development of the Souk Okaz Festival in Al-Taif (close to Riyadh); SCTA's investment in accommodations, with 20% of 155 new hotels in the country in Riyadh; and SCTA's investment in business projects.

Residents of Saudi Arabia are looking for experiences other than spending summers in Jeddah or taking Islamic religious trips for Haj or Umrah. Riyadh has a clear tourist potential and will attract tourism investment. Saudi travel and tourism companies targeted 67.8 billion Saudi Riyals ($18 billion) of tourism revenues by 2016.

Tourism Promotion

New investments in tourism accommodations and transportation will promote the city of Riyadh without any marketing efforts. The SCTA plans to promote Riyadh by investing in events and festivals; the city is promoted through different media channels. In 2012, Radio Riyadh began broadcasting daily episodes of a tourism program Sawah (Traveler) for a period of 2 months, in cooperation with the SCTA. In 2013, the governor of Riyadh (who is also the chairman of the Tourism Council) inaugurated the capital's tourism website.

In April 2014, a domestic tourism investment promotion expo was held alongside the annual STTIM conference at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, featuring promotional events and heritage-related activities of the country's different regions (300 international and domestic enterprises and 14 tourism locations). The capital also encouraged business tourism by hosting the first professional, scientific and medical conference of the country in November 2014.

See also Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia; Mecca, Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia

Further Readings
  • UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (n.d.). At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah. Retrieved from
  • Websites
  • Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities:
  • Saudi Gazette:
  • Saudi Tourism Online:
  • Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market:
  • Rawan El Chami
    Nora Chehouri
    Marina Apaydin
    Copyright © 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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