Saudi Arabia to Issue Tourism Visas for the First Time - The360 Travel

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  • Saturday, December 14, 2019

    Saudi Arabia to Issue Tourism Visas for the First Time

    Saudi Arabia to Issue Tourism Visas for the First Time

    Saudi Arabia announced Friday that it will issue for the first time tourist visas, opening its doors to holidaymakers in order to diversify its resources, for the time being completely dependent on oil.

    Until now, the ultraconservative realm has issued visas only to pilgrims, expatriates and, recently, to spectators of sporting events or cultural events.

    The development of tourism is one of the main focuses of the "Vision 2030" reform program of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which aims to prepare the largest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

    The announcement comes just two weeks after devastating attacks on several Saudi oil infrastructure, blamed by Washington on Iran and shook the global energy markets.

    "We write history," said Ahmed al-Khateeb, director of tourism, in a statement. "For the first time, we are opening our country to tourists from all over the world," he added.

    Saudi Arabia will offer visas online and on arrival to nationals from 49 countries, including the United States, Australia and several European countries, the statement said.

    Soft dress code

    The kingdom had already taken a previous opening move in early August allowing Saudi girls over 21 to obtain a passport and travel abroad without the permission of a male "guardian". And the Saudis had obtained the right to drive a car in June 2018, a major advance in the country.

    Khateeb said the kingdom would ease the dress code for foreign women to allow them to walk without carrying the abaya, the traditional compulsory dress in public for Saudi women, whom some have stopped wearing in protest.

    However, foreign visitors will have to wear "modest clothes", he added.

    Men and women are advised to avoid wearing "tight clothing" or with "profane" messages and images, according to an English website launched by the tourism authorities. The "shoulders and knees" of women must also be covered in public, "he added.

     Saudi Arabia opens. Our economy is opening up. Our society is opening up, "said Khateeb.

    The austere kingdom, which prohibits alcohol and where social standards are very strict, is generally not considered a very "sell" destination for tourism.

    But Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to change this perception and has already instilled several liberal reforms that have allowed the opening of cinemas and the organization of concerts or sports events in the country.

    One million jobs

    International critics of human rights abuses in the kingdom, including last year's bloody murder of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi, may also chill foreign tourists, experts fear.

     There are clearly some interesting places to visit in Saudi Arabia, "says Ellen Wald, author of the book" Saudi Inc ", but" the big question is whether [...] tourists will feel at home ". comfortable with restrictions on equality and religion, lack of alcohol and freedom of expression".

    For a long time, Saudi Arabia issued visas only for expatriate workers and their families, as well as for Muslim pilgrims traveling to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

    She started last year issuing visas for spectators of sporting events or concerts.

    The government signed Friday a memorandum of understanding worth 100 billion riyals ($ 27 billion) with regional and international investors, including hotel and real estate.

    The government, which faces fairly low oil prices, hopes that tourism will grow and account for 10% of Saudi gross domestic product by 2030, against 3% currently.

    The country's leaders hope to create up to a million jobs related to this sector, according to the government of the country where the youth unemployment rate is quite high.

    Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars trying to build a tourism industry from scratch.

    In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to transform 50 islands and other virgin Red Sea sites into luxury beach resorts.

    In 2018, the construction of an "entertainment city" was started in the Al-Qiddiya area near Riyadh.

    The country is also developing archaeological sites like Madain Saleh, which houses tombs of the same civilization as the one that built the famous Jordanian ancient city of Petra.

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