(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia is expecting 50 million tourist visits in 2022 as it seeks to rejuvenate a nascent effort to promote domestic and international vacations stymied by the pandemic.

“We have already started the recovery journey, and it will continue to 2023, 2024,” Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb told Bloomberg TV at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum. He also unveiled a new center focused on sustainable tourism as part of efforts, announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the weekend, to bring planet-warming emissions in the world’s biggest exporter of oil to net zero by 2060. 

The coronavirus crippled worldwide travel just months after Saudi officials outlined plans to attract foreign holidaymakers for the first time. The country is relying on tourism to help drive economic diversification and create jobs for its growing population.

Al Khateeb said the tourism sector is on pace to account for more than 4% of economic output this year, up from 3.5% in 2019. Because of the pandemic, most of the 45 million tourist visits it expects this year will be by residents.

Once one of the most challenging countries in the world to visit, Saudi Arabia changed course in September 2019, opening applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries and easing its strict dress code for foreign women. Al Khateeb said Sunday the kingdom was contemplating future reforms without giving details. 

“We live in a very competitive environment, regional and global,” he said. “Therefore we will continue the reforms, we will never stop the reforms.”

However, he dismissed rumors that foreigners will be allowed to drink alcohol in some designated areas.

“We have not talked about it,” Al Khateeb said. In a survey of tourists and other foreign visitors before the pandemic, he said the ban didn’t feature. “We haven’t heard it as a complaint.” 

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