A pilot programme allowing religious tourists to file biometric data in their home countries has been hailed as a success, according to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, and the country will look to further grow the role of technology in its bid to ease arrivals into the country.
"For the past year we have been working to allow religious tourists from Indonesia and Malaysia to file biometric data in their home countries. That pilot initiative has been a success and we will now look to expand the programme to other countries soon," said Naji Mohammed Al Qahtani, director general of IT at the Saudi Ministry of Interior told Arabian Business.
"Tourists from those countries clear immigration much earlier than before when they had to provide finger prints and data on arrival into Saudi Arabia, and this has helped reduce the long queues at the airport during peak Hajj and Umrah seasons," he added.
Al Qahtani was speaking to Arabian Business on the first day of the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) being held in Dubai from October 14-18 at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
"The success of the initiative is also giving us the motivation to pursue other ways to faciliate tourist arrivals into the country," Al Qahtani added.
Among those initiatives are a centralised platform through which Saudi authorities including customs, immigration and police, can communicate and share data and documentation.
"This is now a top priority for the MoI. It will make travelling to the country easier, and will also improve the efficiency of services between the various government departments," Al Qahtani added.
Saudi Arabia is working to boost religious tourism in the country, announcing $50 billion in initiatives to attract 30 million visitors by 2030. Tourism currently accounts for roughly 3.5 percent of the country's GDP.
Saudi Arabia is investing significantly in religious heritage sights, aviation, as well as hospitality offerings around the country.
The country's 2020 National Transformation Plan and Vision 2030 initiative place a major impetus on boosting tourism's contribition to the economy as it looks diversify away from its dependence on oil revenues.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior's pavillion at GITEX has been designed to depict a future vision of how the country is looking to become "smarter" in its plans to handle a growing number of tourists into the country.
"It is essential as we look to achieve vision 2030 that all Saudi government agencies are able to communicate with each other through secure channels that improve the efficiency of process," Al Qahtani said.
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