Saudi Arabia will begin issuing visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events from December, officials said Tuesday, a first for the kingdom as it seeks to kickstart tourism. "Saudi Arabia will open up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists," the kingdom's General Sports Authority said.
The new visa process will be first introduced in December for a Formula E motor racing competition near Riyadh, the authority said. Tourism chief Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz had told AFP last year that electronic visas would be launched in the first quarter of 2018.
Visas to the kingdom are currently restricted to expat workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Vision 2030, a blueprint to prepare the biggest Arab economy for the post-oil era conceived by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In August 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to turn 50 islands and other pristine sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts. The country also plans to develop historic sites such as the centuries-old Mada'in Saleh, home to sandstone tombs of the same civilisation which built the Jordanian city of Petra.