Saudi Arabia issues tourist visas for the first time

Saudi Arabia plans to issue tourist visas from April 1 2018, as the country aims to diversify the economy away from oil.

The Kingdom holds some of the world’s most religious sites, including Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Medina’s Masjid an-Nabawi, the burial place of Prophet Muhammad.

With plans to create a tourist hotspot in Saudi, twice the size of Wales, the government are looking to make it as attractive as possible – with an entertainment city that rivals Las Vegas, the Kingdom are hoping to welcome 30 million tourists per year by 2030.

To accomplish this, the Kingdom will welcome tourists alongside the standard business visitors, pilgrims and people visiting family.

Additionally, women aged 25 and over will be eligible for a 30 day single-entry tourist visa without a male guardian.

This is a considerable change from 2006-2010, when the Kingdom closed the country to tourism. However, the reform comes from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s as he promised a “moderate, open Islam”.

The Crown Prince, in an interview with Associated Press, unveiled his plans to allow tourism into the Kingdom; saying, “It is open for people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia and people who are visiting for special purposes. And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.”

The plans to develop the tourism sector in the Kingdom are grand and appear promising, with Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson investing in the Red Sea luxury resort project.

The tourism and hospitality sector are expected to accelerate by 13.5 percent year-on-year over the next 5 years from the reforms and investments in the Kingdom.

Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director of the Arabian Travel Market commented: “Following recent reforms and the relaxation of visa regulations, Saudi Arabia is posted to capitalise on these factors as it nurtures a vibrant leisure and entertainment sector, supported by a new generation of hotels.”