Published on : Sunday, November 26, 2017
Saudi Arabia may be one of the most influential countries in the Middle East but still it rarely features on any holidaymaker’s wish list. However, that is about to change, after the Kingdom announced plans to introduce tourist visas for the first time.
The country has been preparing to become a tourist destination for some time and so, it recently announced giving out visas to tourists, in addition to business travellers, pilgrims and those visiting family members.
Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi tourism and national heritage commission, said: “The targets are people who want to literally experience this country and the grandness of this country.”
The prince said Saudi Arabia intends to issue its first tourist visas in 2018, reducing its dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia is aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, and the country also intends to spend approximately £35bn on annual tourism by 2020.
Saudi Arabia is also planning to convert 50 Red Sea islands into luxury beach resorts and has ambitious plans to build an ‘entertainment city’ in the model of Las Vegas, while billionaire Richard Branson is also set to invest in the country’s tourism drive.
Quite a lot of social reforms are also underway, such as an end to the country’s infamous driving ban on women. Although the ban was finally lifted in September by royal decree, other restrictions on what women can do in Saudi society remain in place.
In spite of the tourism drive and promises of social reform, many travellers remain wary of visiting Saudi Arabia due to its extremely conservative culture and instability in the region.
Major cities in Saudi Arabia such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran are considered to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Saudi Arabia still enforces strict Islamic rules on dress codes and gender segregation, though the Crown Prince’s reforms may see this change.
Public cinemas and theatres are also banned. Such restrictions may need to be lifted if the country wishes to attract foreign tourists.
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