Saudi Arabia generated SR20bn ($5.3bn) in 2010 from the tourism sector, according to the head of local hotel firm Al-Khozama Management Company (AKMC).

The vast majority of the money came from pilgrims carrying out umra or hajj. The religious tourism sector contributed to 47.1 per cent of all trips to the kingdom. In 2010, the Saudi authorities issued one million visas for foreign pilgrims, a 16 per cent increase on the previous year.

Local hotel developers and operators are now seeking to benefit from the boom in religious tourism.

The local AKMC currently has five hotels in the kingdom and has plans to have 10 hotels in the next five years. The company plans to have a total of 1,646 hotel rooms by the end of 2012. Currently, it has about 1,100 rooms.

It already has plans to open two hotels in 2012, says Masaed al-Said, chief executive officer of AKMC.

The company says Durrat al-Riyadh and Faisaliah Resort & Spa in Riyadh in 2012. AKMC is also opening Al-Faisaliah Hotel Medina in the last quarter of 2011.