Saudi Arabia is planning to issue its first official tourist visas from April 1, ANI News reports citing tour operators.
The plan is a bid to allow non-Muslim tourists visit historic sites such as Jeddah, Riyadh and the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh in the Arabian Desert.
If the plan goes ahead, then this will be the first time that the kingdom will issue visas specifically for tourism, although tourists have been allowed to enter Saudi Arabia for religious business and so-called personal visits in the past.
“We’ve heard so much about Saudi Arabia in regards to business, religion, and politics. But as a traveler, getting to see beneath the news story and understand more about day-to-day life, the people of Saudi, and the amazing historical sites, is a huge driver of interest in visiting the country”, said Andrea Ross, United States’ Director at Wild Frontiers.
Wild Frontiers, which specialises in travel to out-there destinations like Pakistan and the Caucasus (a region in Europe comprising Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia), is planning its first visit to Saudi Arabia in November this year.
In order to qualify for a tourist visa, there needs to be at least four guests travelling to Saudi Arabia. The visas will need to be attested by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, which means you will still need to book through a registered tour operator in the country to obtain the visa, according to the tour company Abercrombie & Kent, which already takes visitors to Saudi Arabia under existing visa rules.
Women below 25 years, would be able to apply for tourist visas, but will need a “companion” in order to enter Saudi Arabia.
Non-Muslim travellers will not be able to visit the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, according to Abercrombie & Kent.
Saudi Arabian officials have been talking about opening the country to tourism since 2016.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman have initiated the lifting of a number of restrictions, particularly on women since last year, in a bid to open up the conservative kingdom country.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia organised its first-ever women’s run, marking a historical moment for its women in the local sports sector. More than 1,500 women had participated in the event.