New visa provisions boost Saudi travel industry
LONDON - US and British visa holders are now able to enter Saudi Arabia by being issued Saudi visitor visas at the kingdom’s airports and other points of entry.
A statement from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage said travellers who already hold a tourist or commercial visa from the United States or the United Kingdom no longer need to secure in advance a Saudi electronic visa because they are now eligible for a Saudi tourist visa on arrival in Saudi Arabia.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation informed national air carriers of the changes, allowing them to issue tickets to Saudi Arabia to holders of visas after verification of authenticity.
The measure represents a qualitative shift in Saudi policies regarding tourist visas in Saudi Arabia and dropping the requirement of a prior visa for citizens of 49 countries, including 38 from Europe.
Previously, visitors to Saudi Arabia would be allowed entry only with either haj, umrah, foreign workers or business visas.
Last October, the Saudi government announced measures that included allowing women to book hotel rooms and foreign tourists to stay in the same hotels without having to prove family ties.
Liberalisation of the tourism sector is one of the main pillars of an economic transformation programme within Vision 2030, an ambitious plan led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to prepare the country for a post-oil era.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Riyadh was planning to create 1 million jobs in the tourism sector and reach 100 million tourists by 2030.
Touristic destinations in Saudi Arabia include archaeological sites such as Madain Saleh, with its Nabatean sandstone vestiges. The Nabateans left many internationally known edifices of their civilisation, including the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
Riyadh is hoping to increase the share of the tourism sector in the country’s GDP to 10% by 2030 to create job opportunities and offset the effects of fluctuations in oil prices on the economy.
Saudi Arabia, however, lacks the infrastructure to receive large numbers of tourists. Officials said they expect there will be demand for an additional 500,000 hotel rooms in the country in 10 years.