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On 11 December, shares in Saudi Aramco started trading on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul). The listing followed the biggest initial public offering (IPO) in history on 5 December, when Aramco raised $25.6bn from the sale of 200 billion shares – 1.5 per cent of its equity – at SR32 ($8.53) a share.
The IPO put the market value of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company at about $1.7tn, rising to more than $2tn in the days following its debut, making Saudi Aramco the most valuable company in the world.
The part privatisation of Saudi Aramco was a flagship objective of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda.
But despite delivering a substantial windfall to Riyadh and opening up Saudi’s oil sector to private investors, the Aramco IPO arguably was not the most significant business event in the kingdom in 2019.
That may have come two months earlier when, on 27 September, Riyadh announced the introduction of visas on arrival for foreign tourists.
Aligned with a global marketing campaign and the easing of social restrictions, the announcement effectively represented Saudi Arabia’s debut on the international tourism market.
With more than $76bn of tourism-related projects planned or under way in the kingdom, the launch will underpin a wave of investments in hotels, resorts, theme parks and cinemas. It could also create 1 million new jobs by 2030.
But the opening up of Saudi Arabia’s tourism market may not be universally welcomed. Saudi tourists and investments have been vital to the development of tourism markets across the region, particularly in Egypt, Dubai and Bahrain.
Any shift in Saudi focus towards the domestic market is certain to result in cuts to outward investment, disrupting markets at a sensitive time.