RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism issued more than 400,000 tourist visas in the first six months of its new tourist visa system following its launch in September 2019, the ministry has confirmed.
The new system allowed citizens from 49 countries the opportunity to apply for an e-visa online or get a visa on arrival into Saudi Arabia for the first time.
The ministry said that the new system helped to boost investment in the tourism sector, develop the national economy and increase job opportunities within the sector. The Kingdom aims to increase the tourism sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) to 10 percent by 2030.
The ministry said it provided SR160 million ($42.66 million) in loans to support the tourism sector.
The Kingdom also created a national destination promoter, the Saudi Tourism Authority, and launched a $9 billion Tourism Development Fund, made up of $4 billion in capital investment and $5 billion in agreed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) with private banks.
Through these developments the Kingdom aims to become one of the world’s premium tourism destinations in the next ten years. Forbes Magazine reported that, by 2022, the Kingdom intends for tourism to contribute 4.5 percent to its GDP and add an additional 260,000 jobs, 150,000 hotel rooms and 62 million tourism visits a year.
The Kingdom is also pushing ahead with the construction of a number of giga-projects designed to attract international and domestic tourists, create millions of jobs and bring foreign investment into the economy. These include NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Amaala, and Qiddiya.
Tourism plays a key role in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification, and the ministry hopes that this will open the door for investors.
In an October interview with CNBC about Saudi Arabia continuing to build projects despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Tourism Ahmad bin Aqil Al-Khateeb said that now was “absolutely the time” to charge ahead with plans for the giga-projects, and that their goals were aligned with those of Vision 2030.