On September 27, Saudi Arabia made tourist visas available online to about 49 nationalities. That meant that citizens from countries in Europe, North America and much of Asia were eligible to apply for a Saudi Arabia eVisa, simplifying the process to visit the, until then, relatively closed Muslim kingdom.
Although only a couple of weeks have gone by since the launch of the Saudi online visa, a few more countries have already been added to the eligible list. The kingdom has expanded the Saudi Arabia eVisa to the citizens of the nations that already have an existing commercial or tourist visa from the U.K., Europe’s Schengen zone, and the United States.
Saudi Arabia eVisa Proves a Success
Successful applicants can use the Saudi Arabia eVisa to enter multiple times into the kingdom within a one-year period, as long as their stays do not exceed 90 days at a time. It is also important to note that this new eVisa includes health insurance as well.
All those nationals whose countries are not included in the online visa eligible list do have to visit a Saudi overseas mission. Once there, they will have to present additional information such as proof of financial status and a return ticket in order to obtain a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Within the first 10 days of the new online visa system, approximately 24,000 visitors entered Saudi Arabia proving the new scheme to boost the country’s tourism is already a great success.
Saudi Arabia’s visitors are mainly Chinese, with British and U.S. citizens coming in a close second and third. The rest of the top 10 nationalities that travel to Saudi Arabia are citizens from France, Germany, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan.
Saudi Arabia Relaxes “Public Decency” Rules to Boost Tourism
Saudi Arabia hopes to diversify its economy away from oil, and tourism provides a good opportunity to do so. In that regard, the Saudi kingdom has also relaxed some of its strict “public decency” rules so they no longer apply to tourists —although nationals must still comply with them. For example, unmarried foreign couples can now share a hotel room, and abayas are no longer mandatory for female tourists.
Nevertheless, holidaymakers are not exempt from complying with much of the country’s regulation, so it is advisable to familiarize with it before traveling to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is currently working on developing a luxury beach destination on its Red Sea Coast. This enterprise is intended to transform the area into a global tourism hotspot featuring not only pristine beaches but extremely luxurious hotels. It is presumed that this area will be governed by “independent laws” in order to increase its appeal to international holidaymakers.
According to the president and chief executive of World Travel and Tourism Council, Saudi Arabia expects that, by 2012, the increased tourism favored by the introduction of the eVisa will make up for the 5% of the gross domestic product