Saudi Arabia will open its doors to international tourists under a new visa system that allows people from 49 countries to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival, an official on Friday said.
Ahmad Al-Khateeb, the Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, on Friday said, “The move is part of the kingdom’s efforts to wean its economy off oil.
“Riyadh aims to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030,’’ the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage said.
“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” said Al-Khateeb.
The tourist visa system will take effect from Saturday, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported. The new visa system will be available to citizens of 49 countries, the report said.
Citizens of Germany, the U.S. and China are among those, who are eligible to use the new system.
Tourists will be allowed to stay for up to three months per entry but can only spend a maximum of 90 days a year using their one-year multiple-entry visa.
Saudi Arabia has long been one of the hardest countries for tourists to enter, with visas granted only for short-term business trips, religious pilgrimage, or for travellers with family in the country.
The ultra-conservative kingdom is on a push to attract holidaymakers.
In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030, a grand scheme aimed at diversifying the monarchy’s oil-reliant economy.
Mr Mohammed has presented himself as a reformer who has been easing social restrictions, especially those targeting women.
He championed major decisions, including allowing women to drive for the first time in the kingdom as well as easing the guardianship rules by allowing women to get a passport and travel outside the kingdom without the approval of a male guardian.
The kingdom’s guidelines for tourists does not specify a dress code for women, saying that it is not mandatory for a woman to cover her hair or wear the long, loose garments known as abaya.
“Both men and women are asked to dress modestly in public,” and women “should cover shoulders and knees,” the kingdom said.
More details about the scheme and wider tourism plans will be announced at a gala event on Friday evening at Ad-Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh.
The kingdom hopes that by 2030, the tourism sector would contribute more than 10 per cent towards the kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP), compared to three per cent now.
The tourism announcement comes less than two weeks after drone attacks targeted two facilities operated by Saudi state oil giant Aramco in the eastern province of Buqyaq, forcing the kingdom to halt about half its oil supplies afterwards.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have blamed the attack on Iran, a regional rival of Riyadh. Tehran has denied involvement.