Saudi introduces online visa system for international tourists

The new documentation will allow tourists to attend sports events



Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced plans for a new online visa process for international tourists.

The digital platform, known as Sharek, will be introduced for the inaugural Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix, which is the opening race of the 2018/19 ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

The event will be the first accessible to foreign tourists in the kingdom as it looks to expand its events calendar.

“This is a truly game-changing moment for Saudi Arabia and one that we can share with the world. It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country,” said vice chairman of the General Sports Authority Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki AlFaisal Al Saud.

“We hope the Saudia Diriyah E Prix will see fans from around the globe come to Saudi Arabia to watch this epic sporting spectacle as now your ticket is your visa.”

The race is taking place over three days on the weekend of December 15 in the ancient historical city of Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was the first seat of power for Saudi kings.

Formula E driver and former Formula One star Felipe Massa was in attendance for the launch event.

The kingdom did not say what other events the online visa process would be open for. The price for a 14-day visa is SAR640 ($170.65) and it allows access from any port of entry, according to Reuters.

Visa holders will be able to freely move between specific Saudi territories but not enter the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Obtaining a visa to visit Saudi Arabia has previously been restricted to pilgrims, family members of residents and business people.

However, the kingdom has been seeking to attract more international visitors and boost its domestic tourism industry as part of its diversification efforts, which include plans to boost tourism spending in the country from $27.9bn in 2015 to $46.6bn in 2020.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) said in April it had completed regulation for granting tourist visas to visit the kingdom, according to the Centre for International Communication (CIC).

Read: Saudi commission completes tourist visa rules

An upcoming Red Sea tourism project is also set to be the first area in the kingdom where international tourists from some countries will not require a visa to visit.

Read: British billionaire Branson among advisers for Saudi Red Sea tourism project