Is Saudi Arabia finally going to roll out its new tourist visa scheme? Well, from the looks of a recent social media campaign, it seems it's going to happen very soon. The kingdom recently released a color-infused video campaign showcasing the wonders of Saudi Arabia. In it, several historical sites in the country were compared to famed destinations around the world, making people second guess their perception of the kingdom.
Al Ula's rusty sand and historical monuments look a lot like those in Jordan's Petra, the desert of Tabuk looks like Utah, and the majestic Red Sea could easily be mistaken for the Caribbean. The video, without a doubt, showcases a different side of Saudi Arabia. From the lush green landscape to clear blue waters, the campaign is all about "seeing the unseen."
"Be the first to visit an exciting, new destination. Get ready to see the unseen," the campaign says.
The campaign, which has taken over Twitter, even has its own website under the slogan #WhereInTheWorld. The site features a countdown clock, which at the time of writing noted that the big reveal will take place in 11 days, suggesting something related to tourism visas will officially be announced then.
Well, that wouldn't be a surprise as a number of "influencers" have been touring and promoting Saudi Arabia since March as part of Gateway KSA, a program that's been arranging tours the past two years in an effort to build "cross-cultural relationships through travel and education."
Last week, the head of the Saudi Tourism and Heritage Authority, Ahmad al-Khatib, said the kingdom plans to open its doors to international tourists before the end of this year. He made the announcement during a meeting of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO ) in Russia.
The development in the kingdom's tourism sector is a key goal under Vision 2030. Under it, Saudi Arabia aims to increase the number of tourists who visit the kingdom and revenues generated from the sector to 18 percent in the next 14 years. Under the same scheme, Saudi Arabia is expected to host up to 1.5 million tourists by 2020. It's true that much of that number comes from religious tourism, but that doesn't mean effort hasn't been put into the growth of the leisure tourism sector.
Though this hasn't been officially announced by government officials, but last month, Arab News reported that industry sources confirmed there would be an event titled "Saudi Arabia opens to tourism" later in September. The event aims to showcase the country's tourist attractions. The government has said its plans "hadn't been finalized yet," according to Bloomberg. Tourist visas have been in the making for quite some time and underwent a trial period between 2008 and 2010.
In 2017, some Saudi travel agencies - classified in category D - were given the authorization to begin issuing travel visas. Formerly, visas were only available to pilgrims, business people with a local sponsor, and family members of residents.
On top of making travel to the country more accessible, Saudi Arabia has been putting time and resources into transforming the kingdom into a tourism hotspot. In fact, visitors to Saudi Arabia spent a total of $9.6 billion in July and August of this year, according to The National.
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 hub for tourists, with luxury hotels and pristine beaches. Construction work on the project began earlier this year. The first phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 including the development of hotels and luxury residential units, as well as all logistical infrastructure including air, land, and sea transport hubs.