Saudi Arabia has approved of a plan to start issuing tourist visas, a first for the country which, at the moment, issues visas for business, employment and students.
Additionally, the kingdom grants visas for religious pilgrimages ─ Umrah and Haj ─ as well as visit visas for personal and family visits. However, travel to the country has largely been restricted.
Under the new plans, Saudi Arabia will issue visas to groups of visitors through authorised tour operators, Arab News reported on Sunday.
The daily added that officials were hopeful that Tabuk ─ a city in Northwestern Saudi Arabia ─ would become “a destination for tourists in the region.”
Arab News quoted Jamal Al-Fakhri, a member of the Shoura Council and the executive committee of Tabuk Tourism Development Council, as saying that the Public Investment Fund will assist in the promotion of tourism, which is expected to diversify the Saudi job market.
“The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has been conducting tourism training workshops for the youth on topics including establishing small tourism projects and methods for increasing safety in tourism establishments,” the daily quoted Al-Fakhri as saying .
“This is in addition to raising awareness about the importance of relics, urban heritage and historical buildings.”
Al-Fakhiri said that tourists would be welcome in Jizan, a port city in the kingdom.
In August, Saudi Arabia had announced plans to build a “semi-autonomous” visa-free travel destination along its northwestern Red Sea coast.
The resort area, which is to be developed with assistance from the Public Investment Fund, is tailored towards global luxury travellers and those seeking wellness travel. It was also suggested that the strict religious laws ─ on women’s veils and gender segregation ─ of the kingdom would not apply in the area.
Following the ascent of Mohammed bin Salman ─ the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ─ to the second-most powerful position in Saudi Arabia, a series of changes have occurred in the country.
Recently, the kingdom revealed plans to build NEOM, a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley, in addition to an entertainment city in Riyadh that “would rival Walt Disney”.