Travelers Arrive in Saudi Arabia on Newly-Issued Tourist Visas

First visitors have arrived in Saudi Arabia on new tourist visas as Saudi Arabia looks to attract visitors and investment into the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia announced a new tourist visa scheme on Friday that will see the Kingdom open up to international leisure travelers for the first time, a historic milestone in a broader push to diversify and modernize its economy and society.

From start to finish, tourist visas can be acquired in as little as 30 minutes – an impressive reduction in the time it previously took to receive a business or work visa. It can be done entirely online through a smooth digital portal operated by the Saudi government, including payment and even delivering the visa to applicants by email or WhatsApp in just a few minutes.

Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

Tourism chief Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

In addition to tourism dollars, Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow tourists opens the Kingdom’s society, heritage, and natural wonders to the outside world, according to Arab News columnist Dimah Talal Alsharif. Now people worldwide “can explore and learn more about authentic Arab culture,” she notes.

While some have expressed concern about the effect of open tourism on Saudi society, “this seems unlikely, since Saudi heritage is in itself one of the attractions for tourists, but in any case there are controls to protect it. The most important is the regulation that guarantees the preservation of public propriety — prohibiting inappropriate clothing in public places; expressions, images, or forms of indecent or racist symbolism that contribute to incitement to strife; or the promotion of pornography and the use of contraband,” Alsharif writes.

Saudi Arabia is also hoping to secure foreign investment in the tourism industry in an effort to increase the tourism’s sector’s contribution to 10% of GDP by 2030 and create 1 million tourist jobs.