Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would start issuing non-religious tourist visas to foreigners.
Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Secretary-General of the Supreme Commission for Tourism, said tour guides would be allowed to operate from June and revealed the new visa system was developed in conjunction with the ministries of interior and foreign affairs and the Hajj ministry.
Speaking to reporters on the margins of a travel show in Dubai, Prince Sultan said this new initiative marked a significant change in the field of tourism in Saudi Arabia as it allowed tourists to visit the country at any time during the year.
“There are no exceptions, we want to open up to people who are not coming for Umrah or investment”, he said.
The Secretary-General expected Saudi Arabia to attract 1.5 million tourists in the first year alone. Currently, tourism, including hajj and Umrah, contributes to 6% of the GDP. The government hopes this will increase to 16% by 2020.
“We will be opening up villages and small towns for local visits. We’re looking at resorts, multi-use leisure programs,” he said, adding that the country would also host conferences and boost internal tourism.
Apart form the holy cities of Mecca and Medina , the Kingdom boasts ancient sites including Madain Saleh, a 2000-year-old Nabatean city carved into the rocks of Saudi Arabia ’s northern desert.