Saudi Arabia’s developing efforts to turn the Kingdom into a magnet for holidaymakers attracted 50,000 visitors since the September 2019 launch and almost three times that number applied for tourist visas officials hope will diversify an oil-dependent economy, reported Bloomberg.
Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said, “British tourists followed by Chinese were the top visitors and around 140,000 people requested tourist visas.”
The numbers are in line with our expectations, we are expecting that the adventurous will come first to explore the country and this is what is happening,” said Al-Khateeb.
While representing an important beginning for the Kingdom, there is a long way to go before it can compare to long-established regional destinations. Dubai received more than 130,000 Saudi tourists a month on average last year. Saudi officials said that they will need to add flights and hotel rooms to meet demand as they chase their targets.
The Saudi government’s now delivering on a pledge made in 2016 to allow tourism as the oil-price rout wreaked havoc on finances and triggered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to overhaul the economy.
To attract visitors, officials have significantly loosened some social restrictions, dropping a requirement that foreign women wear floor-length robes in public and allowing foreign, unmarried couples to share hotel rooms.
Businesses could be allowed to stay open during Islam’s daily prayers—Saudi restaurants, cafes and shops close for half an hour several times a day—if it becomes a must, said Al-Khateeb.