The announcement that Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain forward and Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambassador, will visit the country for the third time in less than a year has sparked interest in the country’s tourism industry. Messi is due to visit in March to enjoy the country’s most beautiful tourism destinations and connect with its people.
Last year, Saudi Arabia appointed Messi its tourism ambassador, and he visited Jeddah in May before returning in January to play a friendly match with PSG against a team of Saudi League stars, facing off against longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
The interest in Messi’s potential signing by Saudi football clubs has also raised hopes for a renewed rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League. Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr sealed last year was worth a world-record $75 million per year, which led to reported interest from Al Hilal and Al Ittihad in signing the world champion.
Al Ittihad fans chanted Messi’s name in a local match on Friday, and club president Anmar Al-Haeli referred to a Messi deal in a video last week, saying “God willing. The deal needs time and arrangement.” Meanwhile, Ramon Diaz, coach of Al Hilal, told reporters last month: “The presence of Ronaldo makes us believe that Messi may come to Saudi Arabia as well. Saudi football is growing significantly and seems capable of attracting the biggest players.”
The Saudi government has been actively promoting tourism as part of its Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence on oil. The plan aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the country’s GDP from 3% to 10% by 2030. The appointment of Messi as tourism ambassador was seen as a key part of this strategy to attract more visitors to the country.
The country has already invested heavily in developing its tourism infrastructure, with the opening of the Red Sea Project and the Qiddiya entertainment city, as well as several other mega-projects. The Red Sea Project is set to be the world’s most ambitious tourism development, with 50 hotels, luxury villas, and entertainment facilities spread across 22 islands and six inland sites. Qiddiya is set to become the world’s largest entertainment city, with attractions such as a Six Flags theme park, a safari park, and a sports stadium.
The government has also relaxed visa restrictions to make it easier for tourists to visit the country. In 2019, the country introduced tourist visas for the first time, allowing visitors from 49 countries to enter the country without a sponsor. In 2021, the country further expanded its visa program to include 10 new countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the country’s tourism industry, with a significant drop in visitor numbers in 2020. However, the government has continued to invest in its tourism infrastructure, and the appointment of Messi as tourism ambassador has been seen as a positive step in the country’s efforts to attract more visitors.
The potential signing of Messi by a Saudi football club would undoubtedly help raise the profile of the country’s tourism industry and attract more visitors. However, it remains to be seen whether Messi will make the move to Saudi Arabia, as he is contracted to PSG until 2023.
In any case, the Saudi government’s efforts to promote tourism and diversify its economy away from its dependence on oil are likely to continue.
The appointment of Messi as tourism ambassador is just one part of a wider strategy to develop the country’s tourism industry and attract more visitors to the country.
Once successful, this could help boost the country’s economy and create new opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in the country.