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Aug. 31--RIYADH -- The number of hotel rooms across Saudi Arabia has climbed dramatically by 54 percent between 2004 and 2012, said Salah Al-Bakhit, vice president of Investment and Tourism Development in the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities.

In 2012, the total number of hotel rooms amounted to more than 185,000 units, representing an increase of about 88,688 rooms. Of these rooms, 8,105 are in Riyadh alone.

"There's are many projects currently being implemented in major cities and the economic cities, and thus, it is expected that about 50,000 more hotel rooms will be added over the next three years," Al-Bakhit said. "The Ninth Development Plan of the state has focused on the importance of tourism in Saudi Arabia as a promising economic and service sector."

Al-Bakhit said the importance of the development of national tourism is a crucial task that requires great efforts to achieve the tourism agency's goals.

A strong tourism sector would help create jobs for Saudis, encourage Saudis to enjoy tourism in their homeland rather than spend their money on tourism abroad, and boost investments on local tourism, he said.

Al-Bakhit said the authority has prepared a plan to promote the tourism accommodation sector and bring about significant growth. The plan includes several programs, which will address the current gaps and issues in the sector.

These issues include the imbalance of supply and demand in some areas of the country, the shortage of hotel accommodation during certain peak seasons, and the low level of services at many accommodation facilities.

The plan will also address absence of clearly classified high quality of service, which in turn will help attract greater investment and work to bridge the gap between the service provided and the asking price for these services.

Such plans will require enhancing marketing programs for the tourism sector, he said.

"The authority has been taking a close look at the hotel projects that will be completed within the next three years by a number of local companies in cooperation with international companies," he said.

He noted that the hotel sector in Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh, is witnessing an unprecedented shift in both the volume of investment to the sector during the past two years and the quality of these investments. It will be reflected by the growth of the tourism sector in Riyadh and the country as a whole.

"We can see a large number of hotels under construction today, and we have seen a large number of international hotel names entering the Saudi market for the first time in the recent period," he said.

Al?Bakhit also said that up to 214 hotels will be opened during the next two years, from three-star to five-star categories. The investment in the hotel sector in Saudi Arabia is promising, he added.

He pointed out that the total investments planned for 2020 is estimated at SR144 billion.

The hospitality markets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the largest in the region. Reports indicate that the number of tourists will increase by 6 percent annually by the end of 2015.

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