Britain’s national tourism body VisitBritain has opened a new office in Riyadh to attract more visitors from Saudi Arabia to the UK, making it the first Western tourism board to establish a presence in the country.

The announcement, which was made at a press event at the residence of British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Simon Collis, includes the appointment of Saudi national Badr Almandeel as VisitBritain Country Representative.

British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Simon Collis said:

“The appointment of Badr Almandeel to head VisitBritain’s in-country operations builds on a century of strong trade and cultural relations. Every year Britain welcomes more and more Saudis in the UK with thousands visiting on business, for tourism or to study. I would strongly encourage Saudis to go and see for themselves everything that the UK has to offer.”

VisitBritain Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said:

“The new office in Riyadh will see us engage more effectively with potential visitors to Britain, converting aspiration to visit into bookings and inspiring more Saudi Arabians to book a trip now to come and explore our nations and regions. And with the UK offering excellent value at the moment, particularly for luxury goods, it is a great time to come to Britain.”

The appointment follows the development of a partnership with Al Tayyar Travel Group Holding Company which includes a campaign to promote London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The campaign will offer exclusive summer family travel packages to the UK and will offer Saudi travellers an exclusive upgrade to their visa processing through UK Visa and Immigration.

As of the end of January 2017, Britain was 14% cheaper for visitors from Saudi Arabia compared with the same month in 2016.

Visitors from Saudi Arabia are some of the UK’s highest spenders, spending on average £3,769 per visit, more than six times the average for all markets. They also stay longer than other international visitors with an average length of stay of 18 nights, compared to an average of 8 nights for all markets.

Research by VisitBritain shows that Saudi Arabian visitors are interested in luxury shopping and enjoy Britain’s high-end department stores and outlet shops, with more than 60% likely to have shopped at an outlet or department store during their visit. They are also among the most likely to purchase clothes or shoes during a trip to Britain.

Saudi Arabia is one of Britain’s top 10 most valuable inbound visitor markets with spend forecast to reach £772 million by 2020. In 2015, there were 147,000 inbound visits from Saudi Arabia to the UK, with visitors spending £556 million.

VisitBritain’s forecast for 2017 shows that overall inbound tourism growth is set to continue with 38.1 million visits, up 4% on 2016 which is likely to see about 36.7 million visits by year end.

Spending by overseas visitors is predicted to reach £24.1 billion in 2017, an 8% increase on spending last year which is expected to top out at £22.3 billion.