JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
Published — Friday 6 December 2013
Last update 14 January 2014 3:09 am
Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry is set to receive a shot in the arm following the government’s decision to issue tourist visas for the first time to woo foreigners intending to visit its historical sites.
The Council of Ministers has entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) with the task of issuing tourist visas on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs.
The new tourism law aims at bringing about a qualitative improvement in the industry, which is expected to play a significant role in strengthening the economy besides creating thousands of jobs for Saudis.
“This is a very good move,” said Abdelelah Saaty, dean of the College of Business in Rabigh, while praising the efforts of the SCTA chief Prince Sultan bin Salman to boost domestic tourism. Saaty, however, pointed out that a lot more needs to be done to further strengthen the industry in terms of improving services, building facilities such as hotels and motels and training Saudis on how to handle foreign tourists.
“We should make Saudi Arabia a tourist-friendly country and people should feel it right from their arrival at the airport,” Saaty told Arab News. “We should also establish excellent service stations along our highways.”
He said most foreigners are interested in visiting historical sites and antiquities in the Kingdom. “I am happy to see that the SCTA is working to develop the historical region of Jeddah, which is one of the best tourist attractions in the city. Recently, I had taken a group of American academics to the region and they were highly impressed by it,” he said.
The new law stipulates that tourist areas are protected as public property and cannot be owned privately. It bans operators from participating in the sector without license. The SCTA has the power to penalize those who break the law, imposing fines up to SR 100,000 and cancelation of licenses.