Saudi Arabia offers tourist visas for first time

Published September 28, 2019
Saudi Arabia opens up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil. — Reuters/File
Saudi Arabia opens up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil. — Reuters/File

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Friday it was offering tourist visas for the first time, opening up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

The kingdom also eased its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women, as authorities open up one of the last frontiers of global tourism.

The push comes just under two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure — blamed by Washington on Iran — which roiled global energy markets and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.

“We make history” today, tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement. “For the first time, we are opening our country to tourists from all over the world.” Citizens from 49 countries are eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations, the statement said.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

But the conservative country, which forbids alcohol and is known for segregation, is seen as an unlikely destination for global tourists aside from Muslim pilgrims visiting holy sites in Makkah and Madina.

Tourism authorities have repeatedly said that Saudi Arabia will not permit alcohol. But Khateeb said there would be no restrictions on unaccompanied foreign women, who would also not be obliged to publicly wear an abaya even as they are expected to dress modestly.

Visas in the desert kingdom, endowed with rich Bedouin heritage and archaeological sites, had until now been restricted to expat workers, their dependents and pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Makkah and Madina.

Riyadh last year began issuing temporary visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events. In an effort to change perceptions, Prince Mohammed has relaxed some of the kingdom’s most rigid rules — lifting a cinema ban and allowing gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas.

“Saudi Arabia is opening. We are opening our economy. We are opening our society,” Khateeb said.

But fears of a regional conflict after the Sept 14 attacks on state oil giant Aramco may dampen the kingdom’s appeal to holidaymakers.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2019

Opinion

Chained to the rivers
Updated 18 Jan 2021

Chained to the rivers

There are many state actors who must shoulder the blame for their present condition.
Brave new world
18 Jan 2021

Brave new world

Covid-19 is bringing about a reassessment of the role of markets.
The war comes home
18 Jan 2021

The war comes home

The Capitol riots included several former members of the US military.

Editorial

Updated 18 Jan 2021

More ignominy for PIA

Decades of mismanagement, nepotism and political opportunism were bound to take their toll.
18 Jan 2021

Agriculture woes

AGRICULTURE is the lifeline of Pakistan’s economy. It is a source of livelihood for two-thirds of the country’s...
18 Jan 2021

Internet access

AS the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, and shows few signs of dissipating, one of the many lessons policymakers should ...
Updated 17 Jan 2021

Foreign funding case

THE Election Commission of Pakistan has summoned both the PML-N and PPP on Monday in connection with the foreign...
17 Jan 2021

Vaccine procurement

ALL eyes are on the government as it pledges to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination programme to about 80m citizens by...
17 Jan 2021

Makli ‘renovation’

THERE are fears that the recently conducted ‘renovation’ work carried out at the Makli necropolis may rob the...