Saudi Arabia plans to start issuing tourist visas soon in a bid to boost its tourism and diversify its economy that is heavily dependent on oil revenues.
“Tourist visas will be introduced soon,” The Times quoted Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the head of the Saudi tourism authority, as saying.
Currently, Saudi Arabia is issuing visas for Muslims who want to make the trip to Mecca—Islam’s holiest site—for the Hajj, but other entry permits for foreigners are expensive and difficult to secure. According to The Times, the starting price for a single-entry visitor’s visa to Saudi Arabia is the equivalent of 400 British pounds, or US$530.
The country hopes to double the number of tourists by 2020 from the 8 million expected this year, most of whom are Muslims on pilgrimage.
Non-Muslims are denied access to Mecca, and this restriction will probably stay in place, The Times says.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman initiated the idea to boost tourism in the Vision 2030 program that aims to overhaul the economy and reduce its dependence on crude oil.
According to The Times, the crown prince would be open to tourism “on a selected basis”. Related: Trump’s China Trip To Reap Billions In Energy Deals
Bin Salman also pledged last week to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam”, to the times before 1979, when the religious militants occupied the Grand Mosque of Mecca to demand the overthrow of the royal House of Saud family. That event resulted in Saudi rulers giving powers to conservative religious clerics to impose restrictions on mingling of men and women, and ban cinemas and concerts. Last month, Saudi Arabia moved to lift a ban on women driving, the only country in the world that had such ban.
Now with the proposed issue of tourist visas, it appears that Saudi Arabia is on the path to social moderation and, as a result, economic diversification away from oil. Analysts will have to wait and see if tourism can be the cure of Saudi Arabia’s oil curse.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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