DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia has
announced a new tourist visa scheme, as part of efforts to open up the
ultraconservative Muslim kingdom to foreign visitors and diversify its
The kingdom says allowing more foreign visitors is "a
key milestone." It is seeking to increase international and domestic
visits to 100 million a year by 2030, by which time it aims to have tourism
contributing up to 10% of gross domestic product compared to the current 3%.
The one-year, multiple-entry visa scheme unveiled late Friday
allows for stays of up to 90 days at a time and marks the first time the
country is allowing foreigners to visit solely for the purpose of tourism.
Until now visitor visas were issued for specific reasons such as for Muslim
religious pilgrimages, to visit family or for business.
The visa information website indicated an easing of strict
dress codes for visiting women, requiring shoulders and knees to be covered but
not demanding they wear the full-body abaya.
"From this historic place and during this special day --
Tourism Day -- we are pleased to announce that we will receive tourists from
several places of the world. We are a people of hospitality," said Ahmed
Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage, speaking
from in Ad-Diriyah, which houses a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Saudi Arabia saw profound change last year as part of
reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including opening the first movie
theater and lifting the world's only ban on women driving.
But there is a hard limit to the reforms, as revealed by
last year's killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by Saudi agents
and the reported torture of several detained women's rights activists.
For the launch of its new visa, the country was highlighting
five Unesco World Heritage sites, contemporary art sites and natural beauties
including the Red Sea, desert and mountains.
Visitors from 49 eligible countries will be able to apply
for the tourist visas online or on arrival at airport visa kiosks, while those
from other countries will have to apply via Saudi consulates or embassies