RIYADH – In an historic move, Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international visitors for the first time.
Details of a new visa regime were due to be announced on Sept. 27, World Tourism Day, at a gala event at Ad-Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh.
Opening Saudi to tourism is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil.
Saudi Arabia expects to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating a million jobs.
By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10% towards the Saudi GDP, compared to just 3% today.
Jeddah beach resort
Billions of dollars are being spent to improve infrastructure and develop heritage, cultural and entertainment sites.
A number of new tourist destinations are currently under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.
Saudi’s airport capacity is expected to increase by 150 million passengers per annum and an additional 500,000 hotel key cards will be needed across the country over the coming decade.
His Excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said, “Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.
Arabs horse riding at sunset
“Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.
“To visitors we say: be among the first to discover and explore the treasures of Arabia.
“To investors we say: become part of the fastest growing tourism sector on earth.”
What to Expect
Saudi sites of interest include five UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Madain Saleh in Al-Ula, the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan.
At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah, the first capital of the Saudi state.
Historic Jeddah, the gate to Mecca, characterised by a distinctive architectural tradition.
Rock Art in the Hail Region, showing 10,000-year old inscriptions of human and animal figures.
Al-Ahsa Oasis, with 2.5 million date palms tit is he largest oasis in the world.
Saudi Arabia is home to 13 regions, each with a distinctive cultural tradition. It is also home to flourishing contemporary culture, with highlights that include:
The King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran
The modernist sculpture park along the Corniche in Jeddah
The Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah
Nassif House in Jeddah’s Historical District
The annual Flowerman Festival in Asir
The Winter at Tantora festival in Al-Ula
The Red Sea International Film Festival launching in March 2020
Contemporary Saudi cuisine by Ali bin Yousef in Riyadh
The art of Zahrah Al-Ghamdi, whose work is displayed at this year’s Venice Biennale.