Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
(photo credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia is working on a plan that would to allow citizens of the United States and other countries to visit the kingdom either without a visa or by using accelerated procedures, such as the granting of a tourist visa upon arrival at Saudi airports.
Others who would benefit from these privileges, scheduled to start by the end of the year, include citizens of most European countries and China. The kingdom’s embassies reportedly and consulates will also be able to issue visas within 24 hours of receiving an application.
"This comes as part of the new Saudi vision of tourism," Khaled Bin Ali, a Saudi academic and political analyst, told The Media Line.
According to Bin Ali, the plan has been in progress for several years.
“First,” he said, “they worked to form a list of the countries [involved] and what was needed to make the project happen…. By now, the first stage is complete and, hopefully, by the end of 2019, the whole project will be finished.”
He added that the first to benefit would be people traveling to certain cities in the kingdom to take part in specific events, while the plan will eventually expand in scope as physical infrastructure is updated to accommodate the expected influx.
Bin Ali pointed out that Saudi Arabia has numerous archaeological sites that go back thousands of years, five of which are recognized by UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"Tourism is a very important source of income,” he stated, saying it signified that the Saudis no longer wished to rely on oil “as a primary source of revenue."
Saudi media reported that the cabinet approved the new procedures at a time when Riyadh is seeking to diversify its economy and open its society, noting that in the past, visas had been limited to resident workers, religious pilgrims and people on business trips.
The Saudi government stated that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s economic reforms aim to increase total spending related to enhancing tourism from $27.9 billion in 2015 to $46.6 billion in 2020.
Karima Bukhari, a female activist in the kingdom, told The Media Line that the new project was a positive step, adding that many Saudis have long wanted the country to open up to the world but have had to wait until society as a whole became ready for change.
“It would allow people around the world to meet Saudis and learn about their culture away from what has been written and said,” she stated.
Bukhari added that she believed tourism would be just the beginning.
“It’s a start,” she said, “where other projects are coming and happening soon.”
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