03 October 2018 | | Telegraph
Tourists can, for the first time, obtain a visa to visit Saudi Arabia without facing the strict requirements that previously made it nigh impossible. Anyone planning to attend a grand prix being held there in December can now buy an ordinary 14-day tourist visa, the Kingdom has announced, giving them access to the race but also to the rest of the country.
It’s the latest in a series of new government initiatives that hopes to encourage 30 million holidaymakers a year by 2030.
Saudi Arabia clamped down on tourism in 2010 but in April of this year reversed their approach and started issuing tourist visas again. In reality, however, they were still tough to obtain unless the traveller was on a muslim pilgrimage for Hajj or Umrah.
The new option, priced at 640 SAR (£131), makes the process far more straightforward.
Using an online platform dubbed Sharek, visitors can buy tickets for the Saudi Ad Diriyah Formula E grand prix near Riyadh, to be held on December 15, and apply for their 14-visa at the same time.
HRH Prince Abdulaziz BinTurki, vice-chairman of the General Sports Authority, said: “The best way for people to see the real Saudi Arabia is to come, and this their chance.”
Why the sudden tourism drive?
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, keen on moving the nation’s economy away from a dependence on oil, is the driving force behind Saudi’s new-found commitment to its tourism and leisure industry. His view is perhaps in part related to the continued success of this industry in its neighbours Dubai and Bahrain.
Talking to the Associated Press earlier this year, he said: “[Saudi Arabia] is open for people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes. And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.”
There are limitations on the availability of the visa to women, for starters. Female solo travellers over the age of 25 are able to obtain a 30-day tourist visa, but those under 25 will have to be accompanied by a family member.
Will Saudi Arabia’s tough laws apply to tourists?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for tourists considering a holiday in Saudi Arabia are the strict rules that remain in place governing women, religion and dress, as well as a total ban on alcohol. There is also international concern over the Kingdom’s human rights record.
But change could be in the air. What with the eradication of the driving ban in June, finally allowing women to drive without requiring permission, and the ban on cinema lifted after 35 years in January, laws surrounding foreign visitors could be relaxed too.
The country’s Vision 2030 Plan includes the Red Sea development, scheduled to start in late 2019 – the intention being that resorts will be governed by laws “on par with international standards”, meaning that women should be able to wear bikinis.
Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund described the project as an “exquisite luxury resort destination established across 50 untouched natural islands”.
The Kingdom said the plans would include “the development of hotels and luxury residential units, as well as all logistical infrastructure – including air, land and sea transport hubs”. The 50 islands under development on the coast will be turned into luxury resorts, the first phase of which is due to be completed by the end of 2022.
It isn’t yet clear exactly which of the strict Islamic laws will be exempt in the resorts, but it’s likely to mirror the status quo in places like Dubai, where tourists are permitted to drink alcohol and don swimwear at certain resorts, beaches and waterparks, but not public places.
Read Full article here: Visiting Saudi Arabia has never been easier – here’s why you should go