Saudi Arabia is making an unprecedented investment in tourism. Over the next decade, the country is investing one trillion dollars in tourism, which includes launching a new national airline, opening all kinds of hotels and resorts, and more.
It goes without saying that a lot of people are hesitant about traveling to Saudi Arabia, so the country is trying to seem more approachable through all kinds of sponsorships and endorsements. The New York Times has a fascinating look at the contract that one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential ambassadors signed.
The details of Lionel Messi’s tourism contract with Saudi Arabia
The details of a contract signed between famous Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi and Saudi Arabia have now been made public, through an anonymous source. The agreement, which was signed in January 2021, could earn Messi up to $25 million over the course of three years for promoting Saudi Arabia.
What does being an ambassador for Saudi Arabia entail, and how does he get paid?
- Messi is paid approximately $2 million for one annual family vacation to Saudi Arabia, where he can bring up to 20 family members and friends, and where all expenses are paid; this can be one vacation of at least five days, or two vacations of at least three days
- Messi is paid approximately $2 million per year for promoting Saudi Arabia on his social media channels (he has over 470 million Instagram followers), with 10 posts required per year
- Messi is paid approximately $2 million per year for participating in an annual tourism campaign
- Messi is paid approximately $2 million per year for participating in charitable work and public appearances in conjunction with Saudi Arabia
On top of that, Messi isn’t allowed to say anything that could “tarnish” the reputation of Saudi Arabia.
It goes without saying that this is a ton of money, though this seems like pocket change compared to the $1.6 billion that Messi was offered to play soccer in Saudi Arabia for three years (which he turned down). It’s kind of funny how he’s open to being paid $25 million to promote how great Saudi Arabia is to others, but doesn’t want to live there for over $500 million per year.
Admittedly this tourism ambassador contract was signed in 2021, before Argentina won the World Cup, which has only further elevated his profile.
Can Saudi Arabia buy itself a good reputation?
We all know that Saudi Arabia is willing to invest the money to build a flourishing tourism industry, though the real question is if the country can make non-Muslims comfortable with the idea of traveling there on a widespread basis. Saudi Arabia is modernizing, slowly but surely, but still has a long way to go if it wants to be viewed more like the UAE.
Based on everything I’ve heard, Saudi Arabia today is very different than it was a decade ago, and I’m sure a decade from now, it will be very different once again. However, I think many people understandably still have some hesitations about visiting the country.
I can’t help but reflect on how much money the country is seemingly paying influencers of all kinds to go to the country, say amazing things, and then share it with the world. Messi is of course as high profile as they get. While athletes make a lot of their money through endorsements, I’m a but surprised Messi signed this deal, especially in early 2021. Maybe the pandemic got the best of him?
I have one other random anecdote to share here. Last year I was staying at a hotel at the same time as an Instagram influencer couple (I only know this because we did an activity together, and they asked if it was okay to film, and then I later looked at the hotel’s geotag, and figured out who they were).
They aren’t particularly high profile, though they basically go around to hotels, post scantily clothed pictures of themselves, and always talk about how every single hotel and every suite is “amazing” and “one of [their] favorites.” Personally I find the whole thing to be a joke, but hotels seem willing to pay for that, so… good for them, I guess?
I saw that they recently took a trip to Saudi Arabia, paid for by Saudi Arabia’s tourism board, and as you’d expect, everything was “amazing” and it was “one of [their] favorite trips.” What made me uncomfortable about the whole thing was that there was no acknowledgement of why some people might have concerns about a trip like this, etc.
I suspect their contract expressly prohibited that, and that the country doesn’t allow those being paid to even address those concerns.
But I just find it all to be a strange strategy. Is Saudi Arabia eventually going to be a tourist hotspot because peoples’ idols go there and say everything was amazing, or could there be some more substantial changes to the country, which actually make people more comfortable about visiting without feeling like we’re turning a blind eye?
Lionel Messi is a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia, and the details of his contract have just been leaked. He could make up to $25 million over the course of three years for vacationing in the country once annually, posting to social media, and participating in an ad campaign. And of course, he can’t say anything that could tarnish the country’s reputation.
What do you make of Messi’s Saudi Arabia tourism contract?