A key goal under Vision 2030 is to increase the number of tourists who visit Saudi Arabia and revenues generated from the sector to 18 percent in the next 14 years. Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is expected to host up to 1.5 million tourists by 2020. Considering much of that number comes from religious tourism, it only makes sense to see the visa process become a little easier.
We saw a lot of that during this year's Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) season, starting with the integration of an e-tracking system for foreign pilgrims — which digitized the process for pilgrims, from visa applications to housing and transportation. Now, the digitization of the visa process for Umrah applicants is expected to result in millions of pilgrims who wish to perform the non-mandatory Islamic pilgrimage.
Over the weekend, Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, the chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, revealed the ministry plans to issue 10 million visas during this year's Umrah season, all of which will be issued electronically. This means potential pilgrims will no longer need to visit embassies and consulates for a stamp of approval on their passports.
Though some individuals will have to visit the embassy, most applicants will be relieved of this burdening process. In a statement to Arab News, Al-Maddah said the ministry plans to issue Umrah visas for 30 million pilgrims by 2030.
"The ministry is well-prepared for these cumulative numbers, and pilgrims now have several e-booking platforms that continue to increase and are no longer limited to external agents," he explained.
Potentially, this is what the process would look like:
Pilgrims will first have to access an online platform such as Agoda, Booking, Holiday Inn, or Maqaam to view packages available for the upcoming Umrah season. Individuals can even customize their own program if the ones available aren't suitable enough. Once the program has been chosen, users must enter their personal data and online payment details to receive a reference number which can, in turn, be used to obtain the e-visa immediately.
The process is quite similar to the e-visa process during Jeddah Season, a festival that took place between June 8 and July 18. All individuals who purchased a ticket to attend events held as part of the festival's first edition were granted an e-visa in just three minutes.