On World Tourism Day (September 27), Saudi Arabia announced a new tourist visa programme—opening its doors to the world. Until now, most visitors received visas for either work or to go for Hajj, however the kingdom is now inviting people to explore its immense cultural wealth. There are some caveats though—the evisa programme remains restricted to 49 countries, of which India is not a part, and there is a public decency protocol to be maintained while visiting the country. Immodest clothes (including uncovered knees and shoulders for women), consumption of alcohol, PDA and spitting are some of the finable offences. Indians can apply for the visa via the Saudi Arabian consulate.
Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer tourists: contemporary cities, UNESCO World Heritage sites, shifting sands of the Empty Quarter, snowy plains of Tabuk, green Asir mountain range and the Red Sea. The UNESCO sites include the world’s largest oasis adorned with 25 lakh date palm trees, 10,000-year-old rock art, and tombs dating back to first century B.C. With its new development initiative, the government hopes to garner over a crore tourists by 2030. Plans to develop luxury properties, an entertainment destination near capital Riyadh, and an ambitious futuristic city called Neom in the northwest are already in place. This move could be a game-changer for tourism in the Middle East in the years to come, possibly shifting the focus from time-tested destinations like Qatar, UAE and Oman.
More information on the visa programme can be obtained here: visitsaudi.com/en/about-evisa.html