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Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for first time

Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for first time

Saudi Arabia is trying to change its image as the ultra-conservative country. As The Guardian reports, a kingdom is ready to offer tourist visas for the first time.

Saudi Arabia is modernizing itself thanks to the efforts of Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. One of the recent opportunities to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil is a touristic boom. The Middle Eastern country invites tourists to visit the country, the only provision is female tourists will still be required to wear “modest clothing”.

Diversification economy and seeking Saudi own place at the tourism map is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the powerful oil-based economy for a post-oil era.

The announcement on Friday was made by tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb, The statement said that opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is “a historic moment” for the country.

“Visitors will be surprised… by the treasures we have to share – five Unesco world heritage sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty,” the statement reads.

Online application for tourist visas to Saudi Arabia opens on Saturday

Saudi Arabia’s tourism chief was proud to announce that the open applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries starts on Saturday, September 28.

The official reminds as well the Arab kingdom would also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe that is mandatory public wear for Saudi women.

Foreign women, however, will be required to wear “modest clothing”, he added, without elaborating. According to the austere kingdom’s traditions, alcohol is forbidden. Such a strict social code is seen by many as a hard sell for tourists, indeed.

The government, reeling from low oil prices, says it hopes tourism will contribute up to 10% of the gross domestic product by 2030, compared with 3% currently. Saudi Arabia is also developing historic sites which could be interesting for international guests.

Tourism office says by 2030 it aims to attract up to 100m annual visits by both domestic and foreign tourists. The sector is expected to create up to 1m tourism jobs as it battles high youth unemployment.

But the kingdom lacks the infrastructure to accommodate visitors in such high numbers, with officials estimating 500,000 new hotel rooms will be required nationwide over the coming decade.