Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s tourism market opens for international visitors

Saudi Arabia on Friday, September 27 has introduced reforms to its visa regulations and dress-code restrictions for women to encourage foreign tourists.

The new visa program for citizens of 49 countries, including the UK and the US, was announced by Saudi tourism officials. As part of the scheme, which promises to deliver a visa in seven minutes, female tourists will be exempted from wearing the all-covering abaya robe but will be required to dress “modestly”.

The 49 countries that are eligible to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival are: USA, Canada, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Spain, Belgium, Malaysia, Austria, Cyprus, UK, Croatia, Estonia, Andorra, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Czech Republic, Holland, Italy, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Iceland, Malta, Poland, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Switzerland, Portugal, Sweden, Australia, San Marino, Ukraine, China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Saudi Arabia will impose fines on tourists for violations of public decency, the Interior Ministry announced Saturday. The new code of conduct lists 19 different offenses that include dressing immodestly, public displays of affection, taking photos of others without their permission, spitting, littering and playing music at prayer time. Fines can range between 50 and 6,000 riyals ($13/€12 to $1,600/€1,500). The job of monitoring for violations and imposing fines will fall to the Saudi police force.

The kingdom wants to increase the number of visits from 40 million a year today to 100 million annual visits by both domestic and foreign tourists by 2030 and for tourism to contribute to 10% of gross domestic product, up from 3% at present.

The government estimates investments to develop tourism infrastructure at $67 million, including 500,000 new hotel rooms by 2030.

Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of WTTC said “I congratulate Saudi Arabia on its decision to open the country to tourists from across the world and look forward to working together to make Saudi Arabia a must visit destination the world over. Today history is being written! The government has recognised the enormous opportunities tourism can bring to the country and I am delighted to see the changes that the destination is making to drive tourism, such as e-visa on arrival for 49 countries, investment in mega projects and infrastructure development.”

Guevara continued, “The potential for tourism in Saudi Arabia is limitless. It has a wealth of natural and cultural resources and especially the amazing hospitality of the Saudi people, as yet undiscovered by international, and even many national, travellers.  Travel & Tourism growth will not only create jobs and a diverse economy but will also spread a new understanding of Saudi Arabia’s rich culture around the world. We have seen how Travel & Tourism can transform nations and WTTC is delighted to support this new chapter as history is written in Saudi Arabia.”

Richard Thompson, Editorial Director at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view on Saudi Arabia’s tourism market, “Saudi Arabia is already the biggest tourist market in the region in terms of visitors. However, the vast majority of visitors are pilgrims visiting the holy sites at Mecca and Medina. Many other visitors are on business trips.

“Saudi Arabia is set to see a long-term surge in visitor numbers which will drive significant new non-oil revenues for the country and attract investment. Most important of all, it will create new jobs and career opportunities for young Saudis.

“The past 12 months have seen significant progress in Saudi Arabia’s reform program. However, real change always takes time to take hold in Saudi Arabia and many reforms that have been announced in the past have been bogged down by bureaucratic inertia or political resistance. This can create confusion and frustration for investors.

“To overcome this resistance, Saudi Arabia’s reforms must continue to build internal capacity to ensure that institutional and bureaucratic barriers are removed. They must ensure that the benefits of the reforms reach everybody in the kingdom and are not felt only by the rich, urban elite.

“In particular, Riyadh must ensure that the Kingdom’s rural youth population does not miss out on the benefits of the reform agenda.”

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