RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to start issuing tourist visas “soon”, authorities said yesterday, as the ultraconservative kingdom seeks to attract international visitors in a radical overhaul of its oil-dependent economy.
Tourism is seen as a major driver of growth as the kingdom attempts to wean itself off its dependence on petrodollars amid a protracted oil slump. “Tourist visas will be introduced soon,” Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, head of the Saudi tourism authority, was quoted as saying in a statement. He did not specify a time frame. Aside from millions of Muslims who travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, most visitors currently face a tedious visa process and exorbitant fees to enter the kingdom. Although richly endowed with natural beauty, the kingdom is hardly seen as a tourism hotspot.