Published on : Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Deeply conservative and often distrusting of visitors, Saudi Arabia has been largely closed to leisure tourists since a limited pilot scheme between 2006 and 2010. However, that’s about to change with the announcement of issuing visas to tourists on 1 April, 2018, alongside those for business travellers, pilgrims and people visiting family.
Promising more ‘moderate and open Islam’, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been making moves to soften many of the country’s strict rules, such as the recent lifting of the infamous driving ban for women. Following up on this, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Plan also aims to reduce its dependence on oil, with tourism a key part of the change .
Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the oldest living son of King Salman said, “Saudi Arabia is open to people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes. And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.”
But it’s the kingdom’s historic and natural sites that should cause the big initial interest from the outside world (apart from the obvious novelty of peeking behind what many consider closed doors). Highlights include the Nabatean site of Mada’in Saleh, featuring a number of spectacular rock-cut tombs similar in style to the Nabatean sites at Petra in Jordan. Tours will no doubt also take in the Red Sea town of Jeddha, the capital Riyadh and the Sarawat Mountains, close to the border with Yemen.
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