For the first time, Saudi Arabia will issue tourist visas

Riyadh wants to diversify its resources, completely dependent on oil, by welcoming international tourists. The dress code will then be relaxed.

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Saudi tourists practice meditation in Abha (southwestern Saudi Arabia) on August 24. AMR NABIL / AP

Saudi Arabia will open its doors to international holidaymakers. The country announced, Friday, September 27, the issuance for the first time of tourist visas. "A historic moment for our country"said Ahmed Al-Khatib, director of tourism, in a statement. "Visitors will be surprised to discover the treasures we have to share: five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty. "

The development of tourism is one of the main focuses of the Vision 2030 reform program of Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman ("MBS"), which aims to prepare the largest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

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For a long time, Saudi Arabia issued visas only for expatriate workers and their families, as well as for Muslim pilgrims traveling to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. It began last year to issue visas for spectators of sporting events or concerts, with the aim, already, to start developing the tourism sector.

Ahmed Al-Khatib said the kingdom would loosen the dress code for foreign women and allow them to wander without carrying the abaya, the compulsory traditional dress in public for Saudi women. However, foreign visitors will have to wear "Modest clothes", he added.

A tourism industry to diversify its resources

The austere kingdom, which prohibits alcohol and where social norms are very strict, is generally not considered a very important destination. "Saleswoman" for the tourism. But Prince MBS wants to change this perception and has already instilled several liberal reforms that have allowed the opening of cinemas and the organization of concerts or sports events in the country. International critics of the country's lack of respect for human rights, including last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, may also chill foreign tourists, experts fear.

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The announcement came just two weeks after devastating attacks on several Saudi oil infrastructure, blamed by Washington on Iran and shook the global energy markets.

The government, which faces fairly low oil prices, hopes tourism will grow to 10% of Saudi gross domestic product by 2030. Riyadh has spent billions of dollars trying to build an industry. tourist from scratch.

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In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to transform 50 islands and other virgin Red Sea sites into luxury beach resorts. The country is also developing archaeological sites like Madain Saleh, which houses sandstone tombs of the same civilization as the one that built the famous Jordanian ancient city of Petra.


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