Saudi Arabia has announced it would issue tourist visas for the first time. The move is part of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 agenda. It aims to refocus Riyadh’s image on in the international arena and reform the country’s economy, which is preparing for post-oil era.
“Visitors will be surprised… by the treasures we have to share — five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty,” said the country’s Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb.
Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb said the country is also to ease its dress code for female foreign visitors. From now on, they won’t be required to wear an abaya robe, which conceals most of the body. However, al-Khateeb stressed that female visitors will be asked to wear modest clothing.
Non-Muslim visitors will still not be allowed to visit holy places like the Kaaba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque, and the ban on alcohol will be kept in place. Riyadh says that by 2030, it aims to increase domestic and international visits to 100 million per year. It expects the tourism industry to create one million jobs and contribute up to 10 percent of GDP by 2030.
Unprecedented changes have occurred in conservative Saudi Arabia over the last two years. Authorities have allowed women to drive cars and visit football matches, and lifted a ban on movie theatres, which lasted for 35 years. The kingdom has also seen performances by Janet Jackson, rapper 50 Cent and Mariah Carey, among others.