Saudi Arabia to open its doors to foreign tourists for the first time | World News


Saudi Arabia will open its doors to foreign tourists for the first time as the country hopes to attract 100 million visitors a year by 2030.

The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, which has been relatively closed off for decades, is making visas available to tourists from 49 nations on Friday.

The move is part of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plans to develop new industries, as the world’s top oil exporter looks to wean itself off of the fossil fuel and open up society.

Tourism is high on the crown prince’s agenda, despite a shortage of infrastructure.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has ambitious plans to develop new industries in Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has ambitious plans to develop new industries

Saudi Arabia is appealing to foreign companies to invest in the sector it hopes will contribute 10% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb has estimated around 250 billion riyals (£54bn) of investments are needed, including 500,000 new hotel rooms within the next decade.

The Gulf country, which shares borders with Iraq to the north and Yemen to the south, boasts vast tracts of desert but also verdant mountains, pristine beaches and historical sites including five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Muslim kingdom has been relaxing its strict social codes in recent years.

Saudi families spend an evening by a seafront promenade as the sun sets in the Red Sea city of Jeddah
Women will still be expected to dress modestly at beaches

This includes the segregation of men and women in public places and requiring women to wear all-covering black robes called abayas.

Mr al-Khateeb said that abayas will not be mandatory for female holidaymakers.

However, women will still be required to dress modestly, including at public beaches.

Mr al-Khateeb also indicated alcohol remains banned, and said: “We will have enough tourists to come to Saudi Arabia to enjoy other things.”

The Qasr al-Farid tomb (The Lonely Castle) in Madain Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site
The Qasr al-Farid tomb (The Lonely Castle) in Madain Saleh is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Visas will be available online for around £65, with no restrictions for unaccompanied women as in the past.

Access to the Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina will remain restricted.

More details, including which countries are eligible, are expected later on Friday.

Until now foreigners visiting Saudi Arabia were largely restricted to resident workers and their dependants, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims given special visas to visit Mecca and Medina.

Plans to admit significant numbers of leisure tourists have been discussed for years, only to be blocked by conservative opinion and bureaucracy.

Many of the Saudi crown prince’s reforms have received international praise, but his image has been tarnished by last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The tourism drive comes as Saudi Arabia’s tensions with its arch-rival Iran have flared.

Riyadh blames Tehran for an attack earlier this month on Saudi oil facilities, which Iran denies.

Mr al-Khateeb, who chairs the Saudi commission for tourism and national heritage, said the country is “very, very” safe and the attack would not impact its plans to attract tourists.

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