LONDON: Tourists from around the world “are welcome anytime” to visit Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said Thursday at an event to promote the country as a major tourist destination.
“We are incredibly excited to open up our home to the world, and we look forward to welcoming many tourists from every part of it to Saudi Arabia,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan said.
Speaking to Arab News at “The Next Big Destination” international roadshow hosted by Saudia Airlines in London, he said he hoped tourists from around the globe would visit “the place that we love so much.”
The ambassador’s comments came after Saudi Arabia launched a new tourist visa scheme on Sept. 28, which offers visitors from 49 countries a visa on arrival, and enables easier access through the Schengen scheme for others. Tourists can make multiple visits to the Kingdom within a 12 month period, provided each visit does not exceed 90 days. Each visa costs SR440 ($117).
Sultan Otaify, Saudia’s manager in the UK, said the company is “really delighted and excited about all the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.” He said the London roadshow was the first of many, with more to take place in China, France, and the USA.
“The aim of these roadshows is to inform and enrich the global market and show tourists what Saudi Arabia can offer. We are telling the world that the next big destination is Saudi Arabia and that they should fly with Saudia.”
“The Kingdom has a huge variety of undiscovered places that the world is eager to visit.”
Otaify also revealed that Saudia Airlines will start operations to Amsterdam on Mar. 29, 2020, and this is part of the plan to increase tourism to the Kingdom.
The recently announced visa system was introduced in a bid to create one million jobs within the Kingdom, as well as targeting 100 million visitors a year by 2030 as part of the Vision 2030 program.
Opening Saudi Arabia to tourism is a cornerstone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) is putting on eleven different tourist seasons around the year across the Kingdom. They include the Riyadh Season, AlUla season which features the Winter at Tantora Festival, and Ad Diriyah Season.
Tourism is expected to contribute up to 10 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product by 2030 compared with just 3 percent before the new tourist visa scheme was announced, the chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) Ahmad Al-Khateeb said.
Outside of religious journeys, the new visa does not exclude any visitor on religious grounds. Until now, most visitors to the Kingdom have been either pilgrims or businesspeople.
One of the tourist destinations that Saudia is encouraging visitors to explore is AlUla, an archeological marvel that boasts golden sandstone canyons, colossal arches, and rock formations.
Charlie Eland, the Royal Commission for AlUla’s tourism promotion manager, said she has seen “amazing interest and appetite from the European market which is a very important market to us.”
“With the opening up of the visa, there’s incredible interest in what the country has to offer and the gems that are there.”
“AlUla is a wonderful region and is really stunning. It’s an undiscovered gem of the world and a very historical site that very few people have been able to see- there is a wealth of history to be seen.”
Isolated in the desert of the Kingdom’s northwestern region, AlUla has played host to numerous ancient civilizations, from the Neolithic to the Roman to the Ottoman, making it a significant cultural crossroads.