AI News, Saudi Arabia plans to issue first tourist visas in 2018

Saudi Arabia plans to issue first tourist visas in 2018

Saudi Arabia may be one of the most influential countries in the Middle East but to date it rarely registers on most holidaymakers' wish lists.

The country has been preparing to become a tourist destination for some time and recently announced it would give out visas to tourists, in addition to business travellers, pilgrims and those visiting family members.

As reported in CNN Money, Saudi Arabia is aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030 (a sharp rise from 2016 figures of 18 million), while the country also intends to spend approximately £35bn on annual tourism by 2020.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has hinted at a new era of openness in Saudi Arabia (AFP/Getty) The wealthy nation is planning to convert 50 Red Sea islands into luxury beach resorts and has ambitious plans to build an 'entertainment city' to rival Las Vegas, while billionaire Richard Branson is also set to invest in the country's tourism drive.

Saudi Arabia will issue its first tourist visas in 2018

'The targets are people who want to literally experience this country and the grandness of this country,' Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi tourism and national heritage commission, told CNNMoney's Richard Quest.

It's aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016, and it wants annual tourism spending to hit $47 billion by 2020.

The Red Sea development includes roughly 100 miles of coastline Powered by SmartAsset.com SMARTASSET.COM Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is driving the economic overhaul, has also unveiled plans for a $500 billion metropolis that will extend across Saudi Arabia's borders into Egypt and Jordan.

'Saudi Arabia holds tremendous tourist potential due its favorable temperature, historical and cultural heritage, natural beauty and rich marine life,' said Nikola Kosutic, senior research manager at Euromonitor.

Related: Saudi Arabia's reforming crown prince has youth on his side The security situation is the biggest challenge to Saudi Arabia's tourism dream, and it was underscored Tuesday when the U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning.

It warned Americans 'to carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia,' citing threats from terrorist groups such as ISIS and missile attacks from Yemeni rebels on civilian targets.

'If Saudi Arabia manages to craft smart promotional campaigns focusing on its strength and addressing some of the perceived security issues, it could potentially tap into a vast regional travel market as well as capture some of the European travelers,' said Euromonitor's Kosutic.

Saudi Arabia to issue tourist visas in bid to cut oil dependence

Saudi Arabia is to issue tourist visas as it tries to attract foreigners to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil.

Millions of Muslims descend on the country every year for the haj but apart from visas issued for the pilgrimage, the only entry permits available to tourists are expensive and difficult to secure.

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Saudi Press Agency, Handout via Reuters/file Saudi Arabia aims to start issuing tourist visas to foreigners next year, a senior Saudi official told CNN, as the government seeks to open up the conservative kingdom and find new sources of revenue to diversify its economy.

At present, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia are largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to travel to holy sites.

He has also taken some steps to loosen its ultra-strict social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious morality police and announcing plans to allowing women to drive next year.

Economic reforms aim to lift total tourism spending in the country - by local citizens as well as foreigners - to $46.6 billion in 2020 from $27.9 billion in 2015.

The commission has estimated Saudis spend more than $20 billion annually on tourism abroad, and persuading more of them to holiday inside the country would reduce that drain on the economy.

Saudi Arabia likely to issue its first tourist visas in 2018, officials reveal

would like to receive lunchtime headlines Monday - Friday plus breaking news alerts by email Saudia Arabia is set to introduce tourist visas to attract more visitors from next year.

The country already welcomes millions of Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca each year, however the country is now looking to attract a wider range of tourists, officials have said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the government also wishes to increase domestic tourism However, Saudi Arabia faces obstacles in the form of security issues which were highlighted in the US State Department’s travel warning on Tuesday.

The warning said that Americans should “carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia,' citing threats from terrorist groups such as ISIS and missile attacks from Yemeni rebels on civilian targets.