Travel agencies can now issue Saudi tourist visas

Visitors take shelter from the sun at a tourism destination in Al Ahsa. Saudi Arabia is developing plenty of tourism attractions as it gradually opens up the industry to foreign visitors. (SPA file photo)
Updated 05 December 2017

Travel agencies can now issue Saudi tourist visas

JEDDAH/RIYADH: Travel agencies in category D can now issue visas for tourists and for educational or medical treatment purposes inside and outside the Kingdom.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) in Jeddah has issued the first license allowing a travel agency in category D to issue such visas, according to Sabq online newspaper.
Now all four categories of licensed travel agencies in Jeddah (A, B, C and D) can provide a variety of services including the sale, purchase and issuance of travel tickets inside and outside the Kingdom through various means of transport, and to market tourist trips provided by the tour organizers in addition to handling tourist and educational visas.
The director general of SCTH in Makkah region, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Amri, said the travel and tourism sector was suffering from power overlapping before being affiliated to the SCTH and constituted an obstacle for initiatives.
Then came the clear-cut directives from SCTH President Prince Sultan bin Salman to restructure the tourism sector along scientific lines, he said.

Restoration of historic mosques
A program for restoring and reviving 34 historic mosques in the area of Al-Diriya has been recently launched, according to the SCTH president.
The program is being implemented by SCTH, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh and Al-Turath Foundation.
The SCTH chief pointed out that the restoration program seeks to revive historic mosques and their role in society and to shed light on their history. He stressed that the revival of these historic mosques not only includes restoring urban heritage, but also reviving the buildings, which were built and cared for by Saudi Arabia’s kings, reported Al-Hayat newspaper on Monday.
Prince Sultan bin Salman has also launched projects for restoring 10 historic mosques in Al-Qassim as part of the program for reviving the buildings with the participation of the local community.
Moreover, three architectural offices volunteered to prepare plans for restoring and rehabilitating 13 historic mosques in the region, bringing the total number of historic mosques restored since the launch of the program to 79, including the 100-year-old Al-Maarik Mosque in Buraidah, in which King Saud had prayed.

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 16 December 2018

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”