Saudi Arabia offers tourist visas to 49 countries to improve economy

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Saudi Arabia's tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb

Saudi Arabia will offer visas to tourists for the first time in attempts to expand its economy apart from oil.

The introduction of tourism in part of Vision 2030 reform program of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia’s preparation for a post-oil era. 

“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” said tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb in a 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,” he added. 

On Saturday, the ultra-conservative kingdom will launch application for tourist visas online for 49 countries, according to Khateeb. 

Moreover, Khateeb mentioned that they will implement lesser strict dress code for female tourists, permitting them to go without wearing abaya robe, which is still a requirement for women in Saudi. However, he noted that foreign women will need to wear modest clothing. 

Strict kingdom 

Known for being a strict kingdom, prohibiting alcohol and enforcing austere social code, Saudi Arabia seems to be a hard sell  for tourists. 

Prince Mohammed aims to break that notion by allowing to bring up new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sports events to the country. 

Meanwhile, commentators said its human rights account could also be a serious impediment to holidaymakers, especially after the brutal murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi last year as well as the crackdown on feminism supporters. 

Other than those, concerns regarding regional clash after the September 14 drone attacks on Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national petroleum and natural gas company, might also be considered as risk to foreign tourists. 

Currently, visas are not opened for expatriate workers and their dependents, as well as to Muslim pilgrims touring in Mecca and Medina. 

Since last year, the country has started releasing visas to foreign nationals who wanted to attend cultural and sporting events as a proposal to kickstart tourism.

Furthermore, in 2017, Saudi Arabia revealed a multi-billion project which intends to convert 50 islands and other natural sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts. 

The kingdom is also building historic spots including centuries-old Mada’in Saleh, the home of sandstone tombs which established the Jordanian city of Petra.

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