Saudi Arabia opens doors to foreign tourists with new visas

(NST) – Saudi Arabia has unveiled a new visa regime for foreign tourists – a move expected to help the kingdom make its mark on the world tourism map.

The regime was announced today at a gala event at Ad-Diriyah, a Unesco World Heritage Site in the capital, here.

Said to be one of the hardest countries to visit in the world, the conservative Islamic nation has so far limited its visa offerings to travellers making business, umrah, Haj and family trips.

Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Prince Ahmad Al-Khateeb, said: “Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.

“Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to extending a warm welcome to our guests.

“Visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five Unesco World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breath-taking natural beauty that includes the Red Sea coast and the Empty Quarter,” he said in a statement.

New places to visit

New tourist destinations are also under construction, including the futuristic city of Neom, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh, and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.

“Besides the archaeological sites, the city has a lot to offer, including a farm experience,” Prince Abdullah Al Saud told journalists visiting the Princess Norah’s Farm in the historic city of Al Ula.

The international journalists and social media influencers were part of a culture-focused tour that covered Jeddah, Riyadh and Al Ula.

The new focus on tourism by the Saudi government is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil.

Saudi Arabia expects to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030 – a 10 per cent portion of its gross domestic product (GDP), compared to just three per cent today.

Billions of dollars are being spent to improve infrastructure and develop heritage, cultural and entertainment sites.