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Saudi Arabia may announce new visa scheme later this month
Posted on 08/09/2019

FormalitiesSaudi Arabia

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The new scheme is set to be announced on September 27.

Christopher Fell/123RF

Saudi Arabia has almost finalized the details of what insiders describe as a wide ranging change in visa restrictions. The idea is to attract foreign tourists by opening up the country to citizens of 50 countries as reported by the newspaper Okaz.

While the visa scheme has not yet been officially confirmed by the kingdom's government, sources claimed to Arab News that an event would soon be held to put the country's most valuable tourism assets on display. Here, a massive international advertising campaign will then be launched.

At the moment, the majority of Saudi Arabia's tourists come from religious tourism. The Kingdom unveiled a plan entitled Vision 2030, aimed at diversifying the economy and creating more economic opportunities outside of the oil and gas industries. It's surmised that by 2030, tourism and leisure could add over $100 billion per year to Saudi Arabia's economy and make up 10 percent of the country's GDP.


This is not the first time Saudia Arabia has attempted to introduce a tourist visa scheme. The same claim was made that visas would begin being issued on April 1 last year, although nothing came to pass.

Last year, the goverment opened up a handful of online visas for foreigners for special purposes. Images of Saudi Arabia's only UNESCO World Heritage site, Madain Saleh, began popping up on the Instagram accounts of a smattering of influencers. These visas have largely been seen as a precursor to a full-fledged tourist visa program.

Saudia Arabia's appeal to international tourists may seem like a long shot. The Kingdom has a long record of human rights abuses and lack of press freedom. The murder of journalist and US permanent resident Ismail Kashoggi is still fresh in the minds of many, and while Saudia Arabia now allows women to drive and plans to ease their travel restrictions, reports of women fleeing abuse and confinement still emerge regularly. Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi teenager who fled her family while on holiday in Kuwait and received asylum in Canada, documented her escape on social media and drew attention to the restrictive lives that many women are forced to lead in the Kingdom.

The Kingdom's involvement in Yemen could also prove to be a stumbling block on its way to becoming a tourist destination.

For the moment, the Saudi government plans to invest billions in the Vision 2030 strategy, but results have yet to fully materialize. Much of the tourism infrastructure remains merely blueprints, and there is very little information available on what concrete steps have been taken. It's unclear whether September 27 will pass as uneventfully as April 1, 2018.

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