Bucket list goals: Saudi Arabia broadens access for international tourists [Infographic]
Saudi Arabia – a country full of natural wonders and historical sites. (Photo by Rabah al-Shammary on Unsplash)
Saudi Arabia has a new visa program for 49 countries that will expand access to the country and boost its tourism industry.
For the first time, Saudi Arabia is broadening access for international tourists, doing so via a new visa program for 49 countries.
Prior to this event, Saudi visas were mostly only granted to expat workers, business travellers, and the large amounts of pilgrims who come to visit the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
In addition to the new visa requirements, the kingdom has also said it will relax dress codes for women visitors, also allowing them to travel within the country by themselves.
This marks an exciting new status quo not just for the kingdom, but also for those interested in visiting what has until now been a difficult to access location.
According to the TOPHOTELCONSTRUCTION online database 148 hotel projects are currently in the pipeline in Saudi Arabia:
Why is this happening now?
The kingdom is taking these measures now as part of a larger effort to push for economic reform, thereby decreasing its dependency on oil.
Another reason this is happening, international news outlets report, is that the kingdom is attempting to rebrand in the wake of criticism of its human rights record, including the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, as well as what has been seen as a crackdown on women’s rights activists.
There will, however, be some caveats to the level of accessibility, specifically that women must still dress modestly in public. Non-Muslims will also continue to be disallowed from visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
What are the top tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia?
With access to Saudi Arabia now available for many, the question next becomes: what are the top tourist attractions to see there?
For starters, the Al Wahbah volcanic crater is incredibly impressive. Located in the middle of the desert, some 250 km (155 miles) away from the city of Taif, Al Wahbah is a large volcanic crater with a salt field in its centre.
In recent years, Al Wahbah has become popular with hikers seeking a challenge. As the crater is 820 ft deep, it takes competent hikers about two to three hours to get down to the bottom and back up again.
Next is the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh. Mada’in Saleh was the second largest city of the Nabateans, a group of people who settled across ancient Arabia and the Jordan Valley until their empire was annexed by the Romans in 106 CE.
Now, among the ruins are a vast necropolis with 130 tombs, small pre-Islamic altars, and some adobe houses – structures made from earth – in what used to be the city’s living quarters. Mada’in Saleh was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 – the first site in Saudi Arabia to get this accolade.
Finally, there is King Fahd’s Fountain in Jeddah, which is said to be the tallest fountain in the world. It was donated to the city by the late King Fahd and can shoot saltwater up to 853 ft (260 metres) high. Some estimates even claim it can go up 1,000 ft. At night, it is lit up by more than 500 spotlights.