Starting 2018, Saudi Arabia plans to issue tourist visas to foreigners who wish to visit the country. The government would like to open up their kingdom to visitors while also creating new revenue opportunities to expand their economy.
Even though tension is rising between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the country will move forward with this decision. Previously, visas were only granted to those who travelled to Saudi Arabia for work or religious purposes. Prince Suntan Bin Salman reportedly said, "The targets are people who want to literally experience this country and the grandness of this country."
The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, is trying to establish new industries and businesses to diverge the country's dependency on oil exports. The prince has also taken measures to lossen the rigourus social restrictions, for instance, allowing women to drive next year. Bin Salman is aware of the strict religious morality police that influences the country.
The middle eastern country has set a goal of 30 million visitors by 2030 compared to the 18 million foreigners that travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2016. According to a CNN report, Saudi Arabia hopes to gain $47 million by 2020. Plans of admitting great numbers of tourists have been talked about for many years going back as far as 2006, but were turned down by conservative opinions.
Prince Sultan said that his commission would be mainly focused on increasing tourism at a local level. Saudis spend over $20 million a year on tourism abroad. The commision's objective would be focused on persuading Saudis to travel within the country. The Prince, however, told CNN that Saudi Arabia would also work on developing tourist spots for foreign visitors. Back in August, the government announced plans to develop resorts on about 50 islands off the Read Sea coast.
Sensitive period for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's desire to boost tourism comes at a particular sensible time as the risk of war with Iran increases. Earlier this month, the US State Department issued a travel warning to its citizens remarking that they should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Saudi Arabia. The US State Department announced that, "Terrorits threats persist throughout Saudi Arabia, including in major cities suchas as Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran, and attacks can occur without warning anywhere in the country."
Security concerns following the present relationship between the Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and the Shia-dominated Iran. The relationship has been detereorating due to the ongoing civil war in Yemen and the Political Crisis in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia also accused Iran of being responsible for a ballistic missile attack on a Riyah airport. The Saudis intercepted the attack and felt that this was a "declaration of war".
Iran and Saudi Arabia have a long history of rivalry and alliances accross the Middle East. Lebanon, on the other hand, has become the center of the crisis as the Iranian-backed terrorist militia Hezbollah is set in the country.
War between Iran and Saudi Arabia could lead to devastating results and impact the global economy.