Published on : Saturday, November 4, 2017
As per the reports, the initial visas will only be granted for those travelling as part of a tour group with a government-licensed tour operator. Currently Saudi Arabia issues two-week visas for those on business, pilgrimage or visiting resident family members – but they are pricey and difficult to get. If this new specific tourist visa is started, the country would open up in a whole new way.
The country receives plenty of visitors, around 3.7 million Muslims travel to Mecca over the course of a week during the annual pilgrimage. About 200,000 non-pilgrimage tourists are attracted every year which the country hopes to make it 1.5 million by 2020.
Tourist visas would be part of a bigger push to build a profitable tourism sector in a country that has traditionally relied on oil for its bread and butter.
There are plans to build a sprawling resort of 34,000 square km on Saudi’s Red Sea coastline between Umluf and Alwajh. Hotels, luxury apartments, air, sea and land transport links also needs to be developed. According to the Kingdom, it will create 35,000 jobs which would contribute about £3 billion to the economy and the first phase is expected to be completed by 2022.
There are talks about Saudi Arabia relaxing some of its strict laws, for instance, banning of alcohol consumption in a bid to appeal to Western holidaymakers. An official statement said the new resort would be governed by laws “on par with international standards”. More broadly, from June 2018 women will be allowed to drive and enter some sports stadiums, while Prince Mohammed has said the country will return “to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice currently reads: “Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend.”