Until now, those wishing to visit the inward Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had to prove their ties with Islam or get special dispensation. This week, however, at a historic event in Ad-Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh, His Excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage, announced the launch of a tourist visa program to allow those interested in visiting and seeing the kingdom a chance to do just that.
Applications for the visa can now be made at Saudi Embassies and Consulates across the world and, at the same time, citizens from 49 countries, including the United States, will also be able to apply for an e-Visa online or get a Visa on arrival into Saudi Arabia. A dedicated online portal at visitsaudi.com has been launched and electronic kiosks are available at airports.
The tourist visa allows for a stay of up to three months or 90 days per entry, and is valid for one year with multiple entries. The cost of applying for an e-Visa or a Visa on arrival is $117 plus VAT. Saudi Arabia intends to extend the e-Visa scheme to other countries in due course.
Saudi Arabia and Vision 2030
Opening Saudi Arabia to tourism is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia expects to achieve 100 million international and domestic overnight visits a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating up to a million jobs. By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10 percent of the country’s GDP, compared to just 3 percent today.
Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia offers a plethora of (currently) unexplored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and breathtaking natural beauty. Places of interest include:
•Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a staggering 10,000 recorded sites of historical interest.
•Thirteen regions, each with a distinctive cultural history and culinary tradition.
•A contemporary culture scene that includes the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran, sculpture parks, art galleries, fashion shows, literary events and the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in March 2020.
•A surprisingly diverse range of landscapes, including the green mountains of Asir, the crystal waters of the Red Sea, the snow-covered winter plains of Tabuk and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
•A number of new destinations under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiyah entertainment city near Riyadh and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia’s New Oil
A robust sector development strategy underpins the launch of the new tourist visa. In the first phase of the program, from 2019 to 2022, the focus will be on attracting first-time visitors to “discover Saudi.” The second phase of the program, from 2022 onwards, will focus on enticing visitors to “experience Saudi.” As part of phase one, over 20 new tourist sites will be developed, dramatically expanding choice and opportunity for visitors to discover the country’s hidden treasures.
As part of phase two, the full development of Saudi’s mega projects will come on stream, including NEOM, Amaala, the Red Sea Project, Al-Ula, Qiddiyah and Ad-Diriyah.
Underpinning Saudi’s approach are a range of enabling initiatives including:
•The development of a comprehensive legislative, licensing & inspection framework for the tourism sector.
•A drive to facilitate the recruitment and training of staff in sector’s key job families.
•A private sector engagement program to foster partnerships to deliver a richer and more varied visitor experience.
•The expansion of air connectivity bi-lateral agreements and the launch of new international routes to link Saudi with target countries.
“For the first time, we are opening our country to tourists from all over the world. To those thinking of visiting Saudi Arabia, you won’t find a warmer welcome anywhere in the world. And you won’t find a people prouder to share the riches of their land with you,” said Al-Khateeb. “Make no mistake, this is Vision 2030 in action. We are delivering – supercharging a non-oil sector that will drive growth and diversify our economy for decades to come.”