Nearly 25,000 foreigners took advantage of Saudi Arabia issuing tourist visas for the first time by visiting the country in the first few days of the visas being issued, according to new reports.
Saudi media reported on Tuesday, October 8 that about 24,000 foreigners had visited Saudi Arabia since the kingdom began issuing tourist visas on September 27.
According to Saudi Foreign Ministry figures, the country from which most visitors had hailed was China, with 7,391 people coming to the kingdom. In second was the UK with 6,159 visitors, while visitors from the United States amounted to 2,132 people. Also reportedly high on the list was Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Russia.
Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas in September to nationals from 49 different countries. It’s the first time Saudi Arabia – long considered one of the world’s most difficult countries to visit for non-religious tourism purposes – has issued such visas.
News of the tourism numbers also comes as amid the relaxing of other formerly-strict rules in the kingdom. Unmarried foreign visitors will now be permitted to rent hotel rooms together in Saudi Arabia, as the kingdom seeks to boost tourism.
Women, including Saudi nationals, will also be allowed to rent hotel rooms by themselves, without requiring permission from a male guardian, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) announced.
The SCTH said: “All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels. This is not required of foreign tourists. All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in.”
However, it has also instructed hotels not to provide accommodation to women without ID, unless they are accompanied by a male relative.
Saudi Arabia aims to attract 1.5 million tourists by 2020 and increase the revenue generated from tourism to 18 per cent in the next 14 years.
The kingdom also restructured its visa system for pilgrims travelling to the kingdom for Hajj and Umrah.
Under the new system, pilgrims arriving for Hajj and Umrah – as well as visitors and those requiring a transit visa – will pay SAR300 (about $80). Fees for repeat Umrah visits have also been cancelled.
The fee is a significant cut from the previous cost of SAR2,000 (about $540) for repeating an Umrah pilgrimage within three years.