JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will resume issuing tourist visas as early as January 2021 following months of lockdown, according to Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb.
The minister told Bloomberg visas could be issued sooner depending on “positive developments” regarding a vaccine.
“It’s possible the process could be accelerated and visas made available at an earlier date,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia prepares to reopen its borders to foreign tourists, it also plans to use its G20 presidency role this year to facilitate the resumption of global travel.
The Kingdom halted international travel and closed its borders on March 15 after the coronavirus outbreak. It resumed domestic travel on May 31 and partially opened its borders on Sept. 15, allowing foreign workers holding resident permits to return to the Kingdom and others to leave.
While the number of international tourists fell during the lockdown, the minister said that domestic tourism flourished, helping to offset the decline.
The Kingdom is still on track to expand the sector by 10 percent, he said, with 10 locations selected across the country to promote domestic tourism.
Domestic travel grew by 31 percent this year compared with the previous 12 months, with popular destinations such as the southern mountains of Abha and the island-dotted Umluj drawing increasing numbers of visitors.
Al-Khateeb said that although the numbers are positive, the tourism sector has been hit hard by the lockdown and expected to see a 35-45 percent decline by the end of the year.
The Kingdom will end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport after Jan. 1, 2021, the Interior Ministry said.
A specific date is yet to be announced on the official opening of the country’s borders in December.