Saudi Arabia hope to compete with Thailand for tourist dollars
SAUDI ARABIA has launched its new tourist visa. The visa regime will be available for 49 countries. Dress codes for female tourists will also be relaxed as the strict kingdom attempts to boost tourism.
Saudi Arabia is opening up to foreign visitors as it makes tourist visas available for the first time.
It has been described as a “historic moment” for Saudi Arabia by Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb as the country hopes to compete with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines as a tourist destination.
Visas are available both online and on arrival for a fee of 440 riyals (£95.43), reported Saudi newspaper Okaz last week.
Previously, visas have only been available to pilgrims, business people and expatriate workers.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia is keen to kickstart tourism as part of his Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.
The Middle Eastern country is hoping to secure foreign investment in the tourism industry and move away from relying on oil.
Saudi Arabia wants tourism to rise from three per cent to 10 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030, reported the BBC.
More details on the countries eligible for the visa scheme are due to be revealed later today.
Khateeb has said China, Japan, Europe and the US were among the top outbound targets.
Women visiting Saudi Arabia no longer face strict dress code rules. Previously, female visitors had to wear a body-covering abaya robe.
This will no longer be required but women still must dress modestly when in Saudi Arabia.
There will also be no restrictions on unaccompanied women visiting the country.
Alcohol remains banned in Saudi Arabia and non-Muslims are still prohibited from visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” tourism minister Khateeb said in a statement.
“Visitors will be surprised… by the treasures, we have to share – five Unesco World Heritage Sites, vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.”
He added: “We have a culture. We believe our friends and our guests will respect the culture, but definitely it is modest and it will be very clear.”
The new tourist visa follows the introduction of an e-visa for sporting events and concerts, launched in December.
Two weeks ago Washington blamed Iran for devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, increasing fears of a wider regional conflict.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues ongoing travel advice to Saudi Arabia.
It advises against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen and all but essential travel to areas between 10km and 80km from the border with Yemen, and Abha International Airport and its grounds, located in Asir province.
“If you’re currently in an area where the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain,” said the FCO. “If you don’t, you should leave the area.”
Comment: Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of travel money specialist Equals (formerly known as FairFX), said of the exchange rate:
“Saudi Arabia opening its doors to international tourists is a huge step in the country’s history, and will give unprecedented access to curious travellers.”
“Although the pound is on the rise against the Saudi Arabian riyal since the two-year low it experienced earlier this month, it hasn’t had a smooth ride against the local currency for quite some time.”
“If you are planning to take advantage of the new visa plans for Saudi Arabia, keeping an eye on how the pound is performing before you go and locking in rates through the likes of a prepaid currency card will help your money go further.”
“Of course, you should always check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for security and travel advice before travelling to understand any risks involved with visiting the country.”