Saudi Arabia gears up with tourist visas and strings of luxury resorts

Published:  21 Dec at 6 PM
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Saudi’s leading tourist official has announced the kingdom will begin offering tourist visas in early 2018.

The opening up of Saudi Arabia to tourism is yet another indication of the effect on the kingdom of the appointment of Saudi Prince Mohammad and his introduction of the Saudi2030 plan. According to top tourism official Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, government approval has already been given, allowing the launch of an electronic visa system applicable to nationals of countries on an approved list. Eligibility and access to the visas are still in the planning stages, but should be complete by the early months of 2018.

As part of the Crown Prince’s radical overhaul of the kingdom’s formerly oil-dependent economy, allowing tourism seems a positive idea as, with the exception of the millions of Muslims who arrive for the Haj pilgrimage, visitors are charged forbiddingly steep fees to enter. In addition, those using the existing tourist visas are subject to restrictions such as designated hotel accommodation and travel company arrangements.

The cost of the new visa isn’t agreed as yet, but officials state it should be as low as is possible, as income from tourism is invariably greater than the cost of a visa. Saudi Arabia, potentially a favourite tourist destination for its natural beauty and desert culture, has traditionally been low on travellers’ lists for its bans on alcohol, women drivers and mixing of the sexes. However, in recent months, several of its most strictly enforced rules have been permanently shelved on the explicit instructions of the Crown Prince, including a ban on cinemas, disallowing gender mixes at national celebrations and forbidding women to drive.

In addition, the Crown Prince recently announced a huge tourism project development slated to turn 50 offshore islands and onshore Red Sea sites into luxury resorts.
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