Saudi Arabia is set to open up for tourism, unveiling five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Red Sea coast and the Empty Quarter, opening its doors to international visitors via a new visa system.
The details of a new visa regime will be announced shortly at a gala event at Ad-Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Riyadh, according to a press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal. Visitors seeking unexplored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and breathtaking natural beauty will be surprised and delighted to discover Saudi Arabia’s many treasures, it adds.
The five unveiled UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Madaʼin Saleh in Al-Ula, the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan; At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah, the first capital of the Saudi state; Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, characterized by a distinctive architectural tradition; Rock Art in the Hail Region, showing 10,000-year old inscriptions of human and animal figures; and Al-Ahsa Oasis, with 2.5 million date palms the largest oasis in the world.
The country is home to 13 regions, each with a distinctive cultural tradition, with highlights including the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran; the modernist sculpture park along the Corniche in Jeddah; the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah; Nassif House in Jeddah’s Historical District; the annual Flowerman Festival in Asir; the Winter at Tantora festival in Al-Ula; the Red Sea International Film Festival launching in March 2020; contemporary Saudi cuisine by Ali bin Yousef in Riyadh; and the art of Zahrah Al-Ghamdi, whose work is displayed at this year’s Venice Biennale.
Saudi Arabia has a diverse range of landscapes, from the green mountains of Asir, the Red Sea, the snow-covered winter plains of Tabuk, and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
A number of new tourist destinations are currently under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh, and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea, notes the press release.
The country says that opening up to tourism is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia expects to increase international and domestic visits to 100 million a year by 2030, attracting foreign and domestic investment and creating a million jobs.
By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10% towards Saudi GDP, compared to just 3% today. Billions of dollars are being spent to improve infrastructure and develop heritage, cultural and entertainment sites.
Saudi Arabia’s airport capacity is expected to increase by 150 million passengers per annum and an additional 500,000 hotel key cards will be needed across the country over the coming decade.
"Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country," said Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. "Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome. Visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty. To visitors we say: be among the first to discover and explore the treasures of Arabia. To investors we say: become part of the fastest-growing tourism sector on earth."