Saudi Arabia’s cabinet has approved electronic visas for foreign visitors to attend sporting events and concerts, local media reported, as the world’s top oil exporter tries to diversify its economy and open up its society.
The conservative Muslim country has previously restricted visas to resident workers, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to travel to holy sites.
Economic reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aim to lift total tourism spending in the kingdom – by local citizens as well as foreigners – to $46.6bn in 2020 from $27.9bn in 2015, the government has said.
Plans to admit significant numbers of tourists from abroad have been discussed for years, only to be blocked by conservative opinion and bureaucracy.
“Embassies and consulates will be able to issue the visas within 24 hours of receiving a request,” the daily Arab News reported on Saturday, citing a cabinet decision last week.
It did not specify when the visas would become available.
As part of Prince Mohammed’s agenda, the kingdom has ended a nearly 40-year ban on cinemas, allowed music concerts, including performances by Western pop stars, and organised international sporting events.
Some Westerners also seized a unique opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia in December when the new visa system was implemented on a trial basis.