Just over two weeks after Saudi Arabia rolled out its new tourist visa system, the kingdom decided to expand it. The scheme - which originally allowed tourists from 49 countries to enter the country - has now been extended to cover more ground.
Coming forth, it will be inclusive of nationals of "other countries holding a valid commercial or a tourist visa issued by the US, the UK or the European Union's Schengen visa." The country will also be opening up to other people who want to visit the kingdom. All they have to do is approach Saudi missions to apply for a visa.
There are a few conditions for the latter, though. An applicant whose country is not listed as part of the kingdom's scheme must provide proof of a return ticket, a residence booking in the kingdom, information on their financial status, and their home country address.
Last week, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed the success rate of the newly implemented visa system. Turns out, over 24,000 people visited the kingdom in the first 10 days after the visa launch.
Most of the travelers to Saudi Arabia came from China, while visitors from the UK and the U.S. came in second and third place respectively. France, Germany, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan were also among the "top 10 countries" list.
The new visa allows all successful applicants - both religious and holiday tourists - to enter the kingdom multiple times within a 12-month period on condition that each visit doesn't exceed three months.
Boosting the kingdom's tourism sector
For months, the country has been working on transforming its tourism sector into a revenue-generating industry. Before announcing the new tourist visa regulations, the kingdom announced that old rules - which still apply to nationals in the country - will no longer affect tourists.
For example, female tourists will not need to wear abayas; unmarried foreign couples are allowed to share a hotel room. However, tourists arriving in the country will still have to adhere to specific "public decency" legislations.
These newly announced decisions come as part of a visa scheme that's been in the making for quite some time. The plan aims at transforming Saudi Arabia into a tourism hotspot, a key goal under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Vision 2030.
So far, local tourism plans have worked pretty well
In recent weeks, the Chief Executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Gloria Guevara, revealed that the tourism sector is set to account for 5 percent of the country's GDP by 2021.
Earlier this year, there was an increase in the number of travelers entering Saudi Arabia. In August, hotels located in Jeddah were expected to record their highest occupancy rate in three years based on preliminary data revealing that there was a significant increase in the city's hotel occupancy in July.
Traveling to Saudi Arabia was previously restricted to business-related purposes or religious ones but that's no longer the case. In fact, the kingdom has been slowly inviting tourists to enjoy the many activities, summer festivals, sporting events, and concerts that it's been hosting.
The kingdom is currently working on developing its Red Sea coast into a luxury beach destination governed by "independent laws." The project aims at transforming Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastline into a global tourism hotspot, with luxury hotels and pristine beaches.