Saudi Arabia plans to issue its first individual tourist visas next year as the Kingdom looks to expand tourism and leisure as part of its ambitious Vision 2030 economic and social reform plans.
The confirmation came through comments made by Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi tourism and national heritage commission, to CNNMoney’s Richard Quest.
Visas were previously restricted to people traveling to the country for work or to visit the Kingdom’s holy sites. The Kingdom once allowed small numbers of tourists in select markets, like the U.S. and Japan, working with national carrier Saudi Airlines, to organize trips for small groups of tourists. That program was suspended in 2014 as the Kingdom announced its intentions to focus on infrastructure.
According to CNN, Saudi Arabia is aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016, and it wants annual tourism spending to hit $47 billion by 2020.
“The targets are people who want to literally experience this country and the grandness of this country,” Prince Sultan bin Salman said. He later added that another benefit to boosting tourism in the Kingdom was to attract Saudis, who might normally travel abroad, to staying local for vacation.
A report released in February by Colliers International found a huge potential for Tourism in Saudi Arabia. “There is a positive outlook for tourism in Saudi Arabia, with strong growth forecast and a wave of investment underway….Travel & Tourism is currently the second highest contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Saudi Arabia, albeit from a relatively low base compared to other countries. Inbound tourism is forecast to grow to over 32m trips per annum by 2026, driven primarily by growth in religious tourism,” the report finds.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is continuing to expand its investment portfolio in Saudi Arabia’s travel, tourism, and leisure infrastructure across different regions of the country.
This post has been updated to include information about Saudi Arabia’s limited tourism program that was suspended in 2014.