Saudi tourism visa expected to launch on September 27 for 50 nationalities
New foreign tourism visas in Saudi Arabia will be a “game changer” for the kingdom, according to an industry expert.
Imad Damrah, managing director of Colliers Saudi Arabia, is quoted by Arab News, following news that the visa scheme will be launched at a glittering event on September 27.
He said: “It will be a game changer for tourism, leisure and entertainment in Saudi Arabia.
“It will not just encourage more new people to come, but it will be easier for people who have already decided to come.”
The visas will be available to people from about 50 countries, sources have said, while another said that the country list was still in flux as recently as last month.
The plans were first reported by Saudi newspaper Okaz, which said the visas would be issued online or on arrival for a fee of SR440 ($117) starting September 27, citing people it didn’t identify.
A public relations firm linked to the government has invited reporters and leading international travel and tourism experts to an event that day called “Saudi Arabia opens to tourism”.
Saudi Arabia has long been one of the hardest countries in the world to visit, largely limiting visas to business trips, religious pilgrimages or family reunions. But in 2016 - as the oil price rout wreaked havoc on its finances - the government said it wanted to develop tourism as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic diversification plan.
It is building major tourism projects, transforming its Red Sea coastline to bring in holidaymakers and developing an entertainment city near the capital of Riyadh. The government opened limited online visas last year for foreigners attending special events, seen by many as a trial run for the tourist visa.
Authorities have put particular focus on advertising Al Ula - an area in the northwest layered with the ruins of ancient kingdoms.
While Kingdom-based industries in direct contact with tourists are expected to generate more than $25 billion this year, about 3.3 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP.
Saudi Arabia’s overall number of tourist trips is on course to hit 93.8 million by 2023, up from 64.7 million in 2018, according to research from Colliers released earlier this year.