Welcoming tourists to Saudi Arabia is a benefit for all
Saudi Arabia is building strong bridges of communication with other countries and cultures throughout the world, by means of economic, social and cultural cooperation.
The Saudi government clearly understands the importance of diversifying the state’s sources of income away from oil and related industries. It has therefore taken bold steps to revitalize tourism in the Kingdom, opening its doors for the world to explore and learn more about authentic Arab culture.
The latest stage in this process is the introduction of Saudi tourist visas for citizens of 49 countries, with a quick and easy-to-use online portal, and affordable fees.
Prospective tourists may apply for a visit visa through the e-tourist portal before they travel, or upon arrival in Saudi Arabia at visa points in the passport areas of international airports.
If their country is not one of the 49 eligible for a tourist visa, they may apply at Saudi embassies and consulates abroad.
Applicant must be at least 18 years old, otherwise a guardian is required, and their passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Obtaining an e-visa is expected to take no longer than 30 minutes in most cases, valid for one year and a maximum stay of 90 days. A single-entry visa allows you to stay for one month, and a multiple-entry visa for three months.
Some have expressed concern about the effect of open tourism on the customs and traditions of the Kingdom. This seems unlikely, since Saudi heritage is in itself one of the attractions for tourists, but in any case there are controls to protect it. The most important is the regulation that guarantees the preservation of public propriety — prohibiting inappropriate clothing in public places; expressions, images, or forms of indecent or racist symbolism that contribute to incitement to strife; or the promotion of pornography and the use of contraband.
Saudi Arabia aims to attract 30 million tourists by 2030, with tourism revenues increasing from 3 percent to 10 percent of the gross domestic product.
Of course, another benefit from the development of foreign tourism will be an increase in domestic tourism. The Center for Tourism Information and Research, which is affiliated with the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage, estimates that Saudis will have spent SR49.3 billion in other countries in the first eight months of 2019, a decrease of 6 percent from the same period in 2018.
A further benefit of the new visas is that women may perform the Umrah pilgrimage without the need for a guardian.
There can be no doubt that Saudi tourism will greatly enhance the Kingdom’s cultural diversity, while visitors from other countries will be able to appreciate not only the Kingdom’s heritage and history, but also its renaissance. Welcome to Arabia!
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif