The Cabinet of Saudi Arabia has officially approved electronic visas for foreign visitors who wish to visit the kingdom for specific events such as sporting events and concerts. The world's top oil exporter has been developing a strategy to open up its borders to foreigners.
In the past, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had strict visa restrictions. Travelers needed to meet specific requirements to visit the kingdom. Saudi visas were granted to resident workers, business travelers, and Muslim pilgrims who wanted to visit holy sites.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been pushing economic reforms to increase the total tourism spending in the kingdom. The reforms hope to help the country reach 46 billion USD by 2020. In 2015, tourism spending in the kingdom was of 27.9 billion USD.
Prince's Mohammad's agenda has contributed to the lift of several bans and other changes. The prince ended a nearly 40-year ban on cinemas. He's allowing music concerts which include performances by Western pop stars. Furthermore, sports events are being organized in the Kingdom and foreign visitors will be able to assist. There have been several discussion in the past to admit more tourists in the kingdom. However, past proposals were met with conservative opinions and bureaucracy.
Foreign visitors will be able to obtain an electronic visa for Saudi Arabia
The Arab News publication reported that "embassies and consulates will be able to issue the visas within 24 hours of receiving a request," citing the cabinet's decision. Saudi Arabia has been one of the most difficult countries to visit due to its strict visa policy. The electronic visa system will simplify the process of obtaining a visa greatly. Eligible travelers will be able to fill out an online form with their personal details and passport information.
It must also be said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been highly criticized abroad. There has been an international outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as heavy criticism over the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Dozens of activists, intellectuals and clerics who have voiced critical and opposing views to the Prince have been arrested as well. Despite the criticism, it is likely that many Western tourists will still be interested in traveling to the kingdom. This was made evident last December when the new visa system was made available on a trial basis.
Last year, Saudi Arabia offered an electronic visa service to allow visitors to attend the Saudia Diriyah E Prix. A promotional video was released to promote the eVisa for Saudi Arabia. The video advertised that the new visa would grant holders "free mobility within specific Saudi territories." Foreign visitors should know, however, that the holy cities of Mecca and Medina will remain off-limits for non-Muslims.