The gulf country has set new aims to boost foreign investment in its tourism sector, as a ploy to reduce the dependency on oil revenue. Historically known as one of the hardest countries to visit as a tourist, the conservative Muslim kingdom has unveiled e-visas for passport holders of 49 countries including US, UK, European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
Previously only available to Muslim pilgrims, workers or family members of Saudi nationals, the new e-visa can be applied for online for about $120 with a processing time of 30 minutes. With no further restrictions on unaccompanied women travelling, the e-visa allows one to access land borders, enjoy overland trips through the middle east while taking in the vast culture and history of the country. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has announced a more relaxed dress code for tourists, by enabling the female traveller to wear “decent” clothes as long as they cover their shoulders and knees without having to wear abayas- a long black robe that most Saudi women wear- or cover their hair.
With Saudi Arabia undergoing a rapid cultural change in the past few years, including allowing women to drive and obtain passports without a guardian’s permission, and the re-introduction of cinemas and live music in public. The country now aims to attract tourists, through the development of luxury beach resorts on the Red Sea – a UNESCO World Heritage site – while marketing it as also a considerable potential as the next hot diving destination.
But can Suadi Arabia re-brand itself to become a tourist hotspot?
Given the countries reputation as a human rights clack spot, with its conservative laws that restrict the freedoms of women and the regional tensions that have resulted in recent attacks on its oil industry, the country is not exactly a selling point on its travel brochures. However, with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, introducing an ambitious plan to develop new industries to curb the dependency of the country on the oil industry, bring further focus on foreign investment in infrastructure and luxury tourism megaprojects.
Even though there are concerns about security, religious policing, a ban on alcohol and human right violations, the country is quite positive about attracting foreign tourist as “we remain authentic, have a great culture where many, many tourists would love to come and explore this culture and learn mo0re about it and see it and experience it” said tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb.
You can read all about the new e-visas here: The Definitive Guide to the Saudi Online Visa Process, to know more about essential useful for visas and travel to Saudi Arabia.