Tourist visa to Saudi Arabia was an unusual concept, until the country announced to open visa applications for visitors. Progressively shifting to give them an access to the Kingdom, the services are expected to begin by the end of September.
According to the reports, Saudi tourist visa will be made available to people from nearly 50 countries. One of the sources familiar with the matter highlighted in August that the list of countries was still under modifications.
For years, officials have been promising to make it easier for people to visit, saying that Saudi visitors visa was around the corner. The drive to promote tourism in the Gulf country finally began in 2017, under the “Vision 2030” plan initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, the 2016 oil price crisis took toll of the country’s finances, prompting MbS’ economic diversification plan.
Last month, the 33-year-old de facto ruler of the Kingdom claimed that by 2030, tourism will contribute 10 per cent of the Arab nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Some believe that the country has been resisting holidaymakers for long to keep its conservative traditions under veils.
While Saudi has taken a step towards the industry, critics said its a long shot as the flocks of European tourists might not pick the monarchy due to the presence of several restrictions, including alcohol. However, the new Saudi tourist visas are still expected to attract adventurous travelers, while the country continues to promote tourism.
The plans of introducing tourist visa to Saudi Arabia were first announced by a local newspaper Okaz, which stated that the visas would be issued online or on arrival on charges of 440 riyals ($117) from September 27, 2019. However, the report on Saudi tourist visa was later deleted, and officials said that government plans weren’t yet concluded.
Tourist visa to Saudi Arabia has largely remained limited to religious pilgrimages, business trips or family visits, making the conservative Islamic kingdom one of the hardest countries to visit across the world.
Aiming to develop tourism as a part of its plans, Saudi Arabia undertook several projects. Some of the major ongoing developments include the massive transformation of its Red Sea coastline for travellers, and an entertainment city near the capital Riyadh. An historic area in the northwest layered with massive ruins of ancient kingdoms, Al Ula is the major focus of the authorities.
Last year, the government had opened limited visa for foreigners attending special events, which was seen as a trial run for the tourist visa to Saudi Arabia.
About a decade left for fulfilling the diversification plan, and the Arab nation is moving at a greater momentum to achieve the objectives envisioned by Crown Prince MbS for his realm. With the introduction of visit visa to Saudi Arabia, the Arab monarchy will be laying first stone in the direction.
However, the “Vision 2030” and Saudi’s Prince Mohammed have remained under a pile of questions in past two years. Several acts of the Gulf nation received extreme backlash internationally. These majorly included the unjustifiable arrests of prominent women’s rights activists, murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, severe crackdown on dissidents, and its conservative ideology of suppressing women.
Considering the reputation that Saudi Arabia maintains globally, the uncertainties still remain. Could the attempts of promoting tourism make the Arab nation’s violations negligible?