Saudi Arabia in surprise tourism move

Saudi Arabia is planning to revamp its visa regulations in a bid to boost jobs and revenues by bringing tourists into the country.

Just 24 hours after Saudi Arabian Cabinet rubber-stamped deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan to wean itself off dependence on oil, another Saudi prince revealed, in an interview with The Associated Press, how the country also plans to develop its tourism industry over the coming years.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, who is head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and is the oldest living son of King Salman, said the country was planning to issue select visas to welcome tens of thousands of tourists a year as part of a sweeping national reform plan aimed at showcasing the country’s heritage.

However, while announcing the surprise move that the country will be opening up to tourists, he warned that it will not be “totally open for everybody to just show up and come in.”

‘Open for tourism again’

“It is open for people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes,” the prince told AP. “And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis,” he said.

The announcement by the prince also follows news, as reported, that new measures have been introduced in Saudi Arabia to simplify and speed up the visa application process for foreign companies and entrepreneurs.

In a statement on its website, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority said last month that entrepreneurs and foreign companies looking to obtain visas will see a quicker and simpler process than has been the case previously. This will be based on a three-point process, and waiting times will be reduced to less than five days.

Vision 2030

The Vision 2030 plan, officially agreed on Monday, was originally outlined by the deputy crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month. The move, now approved by the Saudi Cabinet, has been implemented to ensure that the country is not as affected by lower oil prices, which have recently dramatically eroded the state’s ability to finance subsidies, wages and infrastructure projects.

The tourism bid is another bid to boost finances and create jobs. Saudi Arabia has traditionally been closed to tourists although it ran a pilot program between 2006 and 2010 welcoming around 25,000 visitors annually to see its ancient archaeological sites, mountains, coastline, valleys, volcanoes and deserts.

No date has been set for when tourist visas will be issued again.

Around 11 million Muslims from across the globe are allowed to flock to Saudi Arabia annually to perform religious rites at holy sites in Mecca and Medina, though the infrastructure for tourism outside these two cities will need to be created.

The prince said allowing pilgrims to stay on as tourists and creating an industry to support that would show visitors that Saudi Arabia is “moving forward”.

“The issue is very important to us, that people come and find a country that is stable, that is secure… to show off, if you like, our country,” he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Robinson
Deputy Editor, International Investment and Head of Video at Open Door Media Publishing. A fully qualified journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years' financial services experience, both as journalist and originally as an IFA.

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