Saudi Arabia opens its doors to tourists as part of push to boost investment
Saudi Arabia has thrown open its doors to foreign tourists, launching a new visa regime for 49 countries and appealing to foreign companies to invest in a sector it hopes will contribute 10 per cent of GDP by 2030, ABC News reports.
The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, relatively closed off for decades, has in recent years relaxed strict social codes, like segregating men and women in public places and requiring women to wear all-covering black robes, or abayas.
Tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in an interview ahead of the official announcement that abayas will not be mandatory but modest dress covering shoulders and knees is, including at public beaches.
He indicated that alcohol remains banned: "We will have enough tourists to come to Saudi Arabia to enjoy other things."
Visas are now available online, on arrival, or at Saudi diplomatic missions for about $177 including a health insurance fee. Outbound countries include Australia, United States, Russia, China, Japan and many European states, with more to be added later.
Visas allow multiple entries and stays of up to three months. There are no restrictions for unaccompanied women as in the past, and Muslims can perform pilgrimage outside of Hajj season.
Until now, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.