Arab News, Riyadh
Tourists from 38 countries in Europe, 7 in Asia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will be eligible to apply for the new visas
Tourism chief says foreign women are not required to wear abayas, provided that they wear “modest clothing”
Saudi Arabia on Friday formally announced that tourist visas will be issued for the first time to visitors from 49 countries around the world.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) made the announcement at an event in Ad-Diriyah, an ancient city that is now a leading tourist destination.
Kickstarting tourism is one of the centerpieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.
At the launch event that coincided with World Tourism Day, the president of SCTH Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that “the Kingdom opens its doors to the world at this historic moment, and we are a people that welcomes visitors and offers hospitality to guests.”
He added that international investors had agreed to invest SAR115 billion ($30 billion) into the tourism sector on Friday.
“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb said in a previous 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.”
Al-Khateeb said the Kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the 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.
Tourists from 38 countries in Europe, 7 in Asia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will be eligible to apply for the new visas.
These will cost SR300 ($80), with an additional cost of SR140 for travel insurance, sources earlier told Arab News.
The visas will be valid for 360 days from the date of issue for stays of 90 days or less, and for a total of no more than 180 days in a single year.
For residents of those 49 countries, visas will be obtainable online via a seven-minute application process, or on arrival at machine kiosks or special counters in any of Saudi Arabia’s four international airports.
Applications for the tourist visas will commence on Sept. 28. The visa announcement was teased via a website and on social media by way of a video campaign, hashtagged “Where in the world?” which featured several shots of Saudi landmarks and natural wonders, prompting viewers to guess where they might be.
According to SCTH, the website has garnered over 94 million views since going live. SCTH announced on Thursday night that they have established a SR15 billion fund to support tourism projects across the Kingdom, according to reports.
They also said that they had conducted field research by inviting 100 “invisible tourists” to Saudi Arabia to gauge public reaction to their presence, but also to garner their feedback on how they found Saudi Arabia and what could be improved.
Marketing Saudi Arabia as a tourist location is one of the main goals of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to move the country away from its heavy reliance on oil as its main source of income.
While religious tourism has also been a key factor in Saudi Arabia’s income, with pilgrims from all over the world coming to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah, the government has been keen to market the rest of Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination as well.
Locations such as AlUla, NEOM, and the Red Sea are all being touted as potential tourist locations, with many other areas of the country preparing to meet the expected crowds as well. SCTH told reporters at the press conference that there are 10,000 historical locations all over the country, five of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.