RIYADH, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened Jeddah airport’s new terminal on Tuesday, state media said, part of a push to increase foreign visitors to the kingdom and diversify its oil-based economy.
Jeddah is the main airport where pilgrims arrive before travelling on to Mecca to perform the religious haj and the umrah, the year-round lesser pilgrimage.
The inauguration of the new Terminal 1 of King Abdulaziz International Airport brings the airport to 810,000 square metres with the capacity to handle 30 million passengers annually, state news agency SPA said.
The airport operates flights to three international destinations and 21 domestic ones.
Economic reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aim to make the country an entertainment destination and a tourism hub. They are also trying to lift domestic and foreign tourism spending to $46.6 billion in 2020 from $27.9 billion in 2015, when the reform plan was announced.
Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under the crown prince’s economic reform program, announced a year ago to diversify the economy away from oil.
Pilgrims comprise the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million annual foreign visitors, apart from workers and business travellers.
Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
The government has approved plans to issue electronic visas for foreign visitors to attend sporting events and concerts, and is expected to announce details this month. (Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Ed Osmond)