Syrian pilgrims included? Saudi Arabia considers reforming strict visa requirements
Saudi Arabia will consider changing its strict visa policies in the next three years, according to the president of the country’s tourism commission.
In March the Kingdom reportedly suspended a limited tourist visa programme, until infrastructure had improved.
Saudi Arabia also launched the Umrah Plus programme this year, allowing Umrah pilgrims from 65 countries to stay in the Kingdom for up to a month to visit archaeological, heritage and religious sites.
“The visa issue we have given a very wise decision, a very effective decision to concentrate, because we were late in implementing the development of the systems, airports and the network of security,” HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz president and MD – Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), said during a Q&A session at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai yesterday.
“I think within the next three years we’ll be reexamining this decision, we are already, with the opening up of the Umrah Plus programme.”
Unlike GCC neighbours, which are seeking to capitalise on a growing tourism market, Saudi Arabia has maintained restrictions on travel.
Visas must be applied for weeks in advance with applicants requiring a local sponsor.
Female travellers who are under 30 are also restricted to travelling with their husband or brother and it is not permitted for an unmarried couple to travel alone together to the Kingdom.
Abdul Aziz said the organisation would be placing more emphasis on Saudi Arabia’s cultural attractions in the future.
“Culture is a big player, we’re busy and of course now we’ve just realigned our organisation to deliver two major perspectives, tourism and investment and culture and heritage so it’s quite a big mission over the next few years.”