In an attempt to decrease its dependence on oil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making efforts to appeal to international tourists. Is a trip to Saudi Arabia on your bucket list?
Rabat – Saudi Arabia announced, on September 27, the launch of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform program. The program will open the country up to tourists and aims to attract foreign investment in the tourism industry.
The Kingdom has launched a new visa program that will allow the entry of travelers from 52 countries and territories. The new visa regulations came into effect on September 28.
Citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE will not need to obtain a visa to visit the Kingdom.
Citizens of the following countries can obtain eVisas online or on arrival:
All European Union member states
The United States
Morocco is excluded from this list, as is the rest of North Africa. Saudi Arabia has not released a specific explanation for their selection of included countries.
Morocco has historically maintained a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi monarchy recently reiterated its respect for Morocco’s territorial integrity. Saudi Arabia also celebrated Moroccan culture in August.
Most Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, and Palestine are absent as well. Other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia have been left out, too.
Why visit Saudi Arabia?
Although the holy cities of Mecca and Medina will remain off-limits to non-Muslims, tourists will be free to enjoy “five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture, and breathtaking natural beauty,” said Tourism Minister Ahmad al Khateeb.
Tourists can relax on beaches, hike volcanoes, and go camping.
Saudi Arabia’s historic landmarks, such as the ancient desert city of Madain Saleh, are also now open to foreign visitors.
Madain Saleh was once the second largest Nabatean city, second only to the famed archaeological site Petra, which is in modern-day Jordan. Madain Saleh was the first site in Saudi Arabia to join the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Other sites include the historic city of Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, and the 19th century Masmak Fortress in Riyadh. Tourists can also glimpse Neolithic art on the rock faces of Jubbah and Shuwaymis.
The once-secluded and oil-rich Kingdom now hopes to increase tourism from 3% of its GDP to 10% by 2030.
As part of its tourism-boosting initiatives, the Kingdom recently relaxed the dress code requirements for foreign women and will allow women to travel to the Kingdom unaccompanied.
The Kingdom also aims to increase the number of Muslim pilgrims visiting the country annually from 18 million to 30 million.
Since its official inception in 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has retained an air of mystery. Access to the county has been largely restricted to Muslim pilgrims, business people, and expatriate workers—until now.
After years of human rights controversies and the media storm surrounding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia is attempting to rebrand. It remains to be seen if the rest of the rest of the world will facilitate this endeavor.