Daily Management Review

Easy Visas And Other Relaxations To Be Implemented By Saudi Arabia To Open Its Tourism Sector


Easy Visas And Other Relaxations To Be Implemented By Saudi Arabia To Open Its Tourism Sector
Since the downturn in the global oil market three years ago, Saudi Arabia has been trying to reduce the dependence of its economy on revenues from oil. As a part of that vision, the kingdom is not set to open up some of its closed doors to international tourists. 
The kingdom announced a visa regime for 49 countries while also relaxing the very strict dress codes it had for female tourists within the country.
This incident was described as a "historic moment" for the country by Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb.
Till now, the kingdom primarily granted visas to visitors on pilgrimage, business purposes ro for expatriate workers. 
Foreign investment in its tourism industry is also being sought by Saudi Arabia. The government aims to increase the contribution of the tourism industry of the country from the current 3 per cent to 10 per cent of the gross domestic product by 2030.
"Visitors will be surprised... by the treasures we have to share - five Unesco World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty," Khateeb said.
The earlier mandatory body-covering abaya robe will no longer be required to be worn by foreign women tourists while they are in Saudi Arabia. The dress is however mandatory to be worn in public by Saudi Women. Foreign women visitors however have been advised to dress modestly. Further, all restrictions on women not being accompanied by a male family member to Saudi Arabia will also be lifted for foreign women visitors.
"We have a culture. We believe our friends and our guests will respect the culture, but definitely it is modest and it will be very clear," Khateeb said.
However the holy cities of Mecca and Medina will still remain out of bounds for non-Muslims and ban on alcohol consumption will continue.
Taking about the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil industry a couple of weeks back, allegedly by Iranian drones and missiles, will not put off foreign visitors to the country, said Khateeb. "Our cities are among the most safest cities globally. Therefore, we don't believe at all it will impact our plans. We have all the expats living in Saudi Arabia, enjoying Saudi Arabia. We're very secure," he said.
These moves are all part of a series of reforms in the policies of the kingdom to open it up to the outside world as undertaken by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is also the creator of the vision of transformation of the economy of the kingdom by 2030 which also includes increasing international and domestic visits to 100 million. That would result in creation of about one million jobs in the tourism sector, the government expects.
However there are still severe criticisms of the kingdom of for its appalling human rights record and the batterirng of its image following the murder of former journalist of the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey as well as the crack down on women's rights activists in recent months.