Saudi Arabia launched unprecedented initiative in the history of Kingdom
*RIYADH - Saudi Arabia said Friday it will offer tourist visas for the first time, opening up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.*
Kickstarting tourism is one of the centerpieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.
The announcement comes just two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure which roiled global energy markets and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.
“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement.
“Visitors will be surprised… by the treasures, we have to share — five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.”
Saudi Arabia will open applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries on Saturday, Bloomberg News quoted Khateeb as saying.
Khateeb said the kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.
Foreign women, however, will be required to wear “modest clothing”, he added, without elaborating.
Visas in the desert kingdom, endowed with rich bedouin heritage and archaeological sites, are currently restricted to expat workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims travelling for Hajj. Al-Ula, an area rich in archaeological remnants, is seen as a jewel in the crown of future Saudi attractions
In a rare move, Saudi Arabia last year also began issuing temporary visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events in a bid to kickstart tourism.
Fears of a regional conflict after the September 14 attacks on state oil giant Aramco may also dampen the kingdom’s appeal to holidaymakers.
The government, reeling from low oil prices, says it hopes tourism will contribute up to 10 percent of the gross domestic product by 2030, compared to three percent currently.
It says by 2030 it aims to attract up to 100 million annual visits by both domestic and foreign tourists.
In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to turn 50 islands and other pristine sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.
Last year, construction of Qiddiya “entertainment city” was launched near Riyadh, which would include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area. -APP/AFP