Riyadh [Saudi Arabia]: Saudi Arabia on Friday will announce new visa scheme for 49 countries across the globe as part of its efforts to boost the Kingdom's tourism sector. The Kingdom has also appealed to foreign companies to invest in a sector it hopes will contribute 10 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030, Gulf News reported.
Meanwhile, in a significant development, the Kingdom's president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ahmed Al Khateeb, has said that abayas will not be mandatory for women tourists, including public beaches. In addition, visas will be available online for about USD 80 (Dh294), with no restrictions for unaccompanied women as in the past. Access to the Muslim holy cities of Makkah and Medina is restricted.
The details of the new visa schemes will be announced later today during an unveiling ceremony scheduled to take place at Ad Diriyah, a Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site in Riyadh. Currently, only citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE can travel freely to the country. Opening the Kingdom's tourism sector is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country's economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
Saudi Arabia expects to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating a million jobs. By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10 per cent towards the Saudi GDP, compared to just 3 per cent today.
Al Khateeb, in a statement, said, "Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country. Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome." "Visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty. To visitors we say: be among the first to discover and explore the treasures of Arabia. To investors we say: become part of the fastest-growing tourism sector on earth," he added. Saudi's airport capacity is expected to increase by 150 million passengers per annum and an additional 500,000 hotel key cards will be needed across the country over the coming decade.