Saudi Arabia to begin issuing tourist visas

Tourism is seen as a major driver of growth as the kingdom attempts to wean itself off its dependence on petrodollars amid a protracted oil slump

Published 8:05 AM, November 01, 2017

Updated 8:05 AM, November 01, 2017

A Saudi Airlines worker hands a ticket to Baghdad to a customer at the airport in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, as the state-owned airline company launched its first flight to the Iraqi capital in 27 years on October 30, 2017. Amer Hilabi/AFP

A Saudi Airlines worker hands a ticket to Baghdad to a customer at the airport in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, as the state-owned airline company launched its first flight to the Iraqi capital in 27 years on October 30, 2017. Amer Hilabi/AFP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia plans to start issuing tourist visas “soon”, authorities said Tuesday, October 31, as the ultra-conservative kingdom seeks to attract international visitors in a radical overhaul of its oil-dependent economy.

Tourism is seen as a major driver of growth as the kingdom attempts to wean itself off its dependence on petrodollars amid a protracted oil slump.

“Tourist visas will be introduced soon,” Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, head of the Saudi tourism authority, was quoted as saying in a statement. He did not specify a time frame.

Aside from millions of Muslims who travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, most visitors currently face a tedious visa process and exorbitant fees to enter the kingdom.

Prince Sultan’s comment comes ahead of Saudi Arabia’s first archaeology convention in Riyadh next week as the government seeks to showcase some of its historic sites.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in August announced a mbadive tourism project to turn 50 islands and a string of sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

Although richly endowed with natural beauty, the kingdom is hardly seen as a tourism hotspot.

Alcohol, cinemas and theaters are still banned in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy and one of the world’s most conservative countries.

But authorities in recent months have sought to project a moderate image with a string of reforms, including the decision allowing women to drive from next June.

The kingdom is also expected to lift a public ban on cinemas and has encouraged mixed-gender celebrations – something seldom seen before.

The moves appear designed to project the kingdom in a favorable light as it seeks to attract badly needed foreign investment. – Rappler.com


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