On Friday, Saudi Arabia said it will offer tourists visas for the first time, opening up the ultra-conservative kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in reforming the 2030 program to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a past oil-era, tourism is one of the centerpieces. His declaration comes just two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. Washington has accused Iran of the attack that disturbed global energy and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.
Tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement, “Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.”
“Visitors will be surprised… by the treasures, we have to share — five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty,” he added.
Mr. Khateeb also said that Saudi Arabia will be opening applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries, on Saturday. He 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.
However, foreign women will be required to wear “modest clothing” he added. The kingdom has currently restricted expat workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims traveling to holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia last year started issuing temporary visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events in a bid to kickstart tourism. The government says by 2030 it aims to attract up to 100 million annual visits but currently, it lacks the infrastructure to accommodate visitors in such high numbers. The government has also claimed to create up to one million tourism jobs.