Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for the first time

Locations such as AlUla (shown above), NEOM, and the Red Sea are all being touted as potential tourist locations. (SPA photo)
Updated 03 October 2019

Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for the first time

  • Tourists from 38 countries in Europe, 7 in Asia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will be eligible to apply for the new visas
  • Tourism chief says foreign women are not required to wear abayas, provided that they wear “modest clothing”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Friday formally announced that tourist visas will be issued for the first time to visitors from 49 countries around the world.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) made the announcement at an event in Ad-Diriyah, an ancient city that is now a leading tourist destination.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centerpieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

At the launch event that coincided with World Tourism Day, the president of SCTH Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that “the Kingdom opens its doors to the world at this historic moment, and we are a people that welcomes visitors and offers hospitality to guests.”

He added that international investors had agreed to invest SAR115 billion ($30 billion) into the tourism sector on Friday.

“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb said in a previous statement.

“Visitors will be surprised... by the treasures we have to share — five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.”

Al-Khateeb said the Kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.

Foreign women, however, will be required to wear “modest clothing,” he added, without elaborating.

Tourists from 38 countries in Europe, 7 in Asia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will be eligible to apply for the new visas. 

These will cost SR300 ($80), with an additional cost of SR140 for travel insurance, sources earlier told Arab News.

The visas will be valid for 360 days from the date of issue for stays of 90 days or less, and for a total of no more than 180 days in a single year.

For residents of those 49 countries, visas will be obtainable online via a seven-minute application process, or on arrival at machine kiosks or special counters in any of Saudi Arabia’s four international airports.

Applications for the tourist visas will commence on Sept. 28. The visa announcement was teased via a website and on social media by way of a video campaign, hashtagged “Where in the world?” which featured several shots of Saudi landmarks and natural wonders, prompting viewers to guess where they might be.

According to SCTH, the website has garnered over 94 million views since going live. SCTH announced on Thursday night that they have established a SR15 billion fund to support tourism projects across the Kingdom, according to reports.

They also said that they had conducted field research by inviting 100 “invisible tourists” to Saudi Arabia to gauge public reaction to their presence, but also to garner their feedback on how they found Saudi Arabia and what could be improved.

Marketing Saudi Arabia as a tourist location is one of the main goals of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to move the country away from its heavy reliance on oil as its main source of income.

While religious tourism has also been a key factor in Saudi Arabia’s income, with pilgrims from all over the world coming to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah, the government has been keen to market the rest of Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination as well.

Locations such as AlUla, NEOM, and the Red Sea are all being touted as potential tourist locations, with many other areas of the country preparing to meet the expected crowds as well. SCTH told reporters at the press conference that there are 10,000 historical locations all over the country, five of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
 


Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

Updated 11 July 2020

Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

  • Saudis turn to domestic traveling and flock to their nation’s cooler cities and rural areas

TAIF: As Saudi citizens turn to domestic tourism in the country’s summer resorts, adapting to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rural areas have become targeted by local tourists wishing to get away from the soaring temperatures in most of the Kingdom’s cities.

Visitors are now choosing cold Saudi cities instead of Europe, which they are accustomed to visiting, such as Taif, Al-Baha, and Abha.

COVID-19 has postponed all plans to travel abroad, and attention has now focused on domestic tourism amid strict health protocols in parks, gardens and recreational areas.

Walid Al-Hamidi, vice president of the Tourism Development Council, confirmed to Arab News that Asir, with its facilities and attractions, was ready to receive summer visitors from across the country.

He said that under the directives of Asir's governor, who supervises all activities and events directly and constantly, many committees had been formed to prepare a successful summer tourism season, to optimize the opportunity and allow people to enjoy the exceptional ambiance of Asir.

“A comprehensive tourism plan was set up two years ago, which resulted in a successful Al-Soudah Season with the support of Asir’s Investment Authority,” Al-Hamidi added.

He noted that Asir’s directives aimed this year to build an exceptional tourism model that meets optimal health standards in dealing with COVID-19.

The model is supported by the “Nashama Asir” team — consisting of 4,000 volunteers — who have been trained for months and have all the necessary skills to make the season successful. Their work will continue until the end of the pandemic and throughout the summer.

“Everyone is ready at public facilities, gardens and parks, to serve tourists,” he said, adding “tourists coming from all the over the Kingdom will be welcomed with smiles, enhanced services, and warm welcomes.”

Dr. Sami Al-Obaidi, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Taif, told Arab News that the tourism sector was the economic backbone of any country or city.

He said that Taif was considered one of the most important tourist cities, given its many attractions  that made it top of any list of places to visit in the Kingdom.

“Suspending travel abroad, and limiting tourism … due to the coronavirus pandemic, makes us, as officials and citizens in Taif, well placed for a beautiful and safe tourism season for Taif’s citizens and visitors,” said Al-Obaidi.

“Meetings are held around the clock, headed by Saad Al-Maimouni, the governor of Taif, with the participation of the relevant authorities.”

He expected all sectors, especially tourism, hospitality and a few other businesses in Taif, to recover to some extent during this season, especially now tourists have already started flocking to the region, with numbers set to increase over the coming weeks.