Singaporeans can now add Saudi Arabia to their list of travel destinations.
S'pore confirmed as one of the countries eligible for online visa in January 2019
According to Reuters, the country has opened up online tourist visa applications to 49 countries as part of its efforts to boost tourism, in the hopes that the sector will contribute to 10 per cent of GDP by 2030.
While the full list has yet to be announced, UAE-based Gulf News reported in January 2019 that Singapore was one of the countries confirmed by Saudi Arabia as eligible for the online visa.
The visa will cost US$80 (S$111).
Abaya not required for women but modest dress still required
As for the extent of applying the country's social mores to tourists, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the country's tourism chief, stated that there will be no restrictions for unaccompanied women.
Additionally, abayas (a robe-like dress) will not be mandatory for females although modest dress is, including at public beaches.
Bloomberg reported that some hotels have also been told not to ask guests about their marital status.
Ahmed also pointed to the recent changes Saudi Arabia had gone through, such as the end of the ban on women driving and the introduction of cinemas and mixed-gender concerts.
He added, "If you disagree with something, you have the right not to go for it or not to visit. Today most of the changes are behind us."
Reuters further reported that Ahmed implied alcohol will still be banned. He stated, "We will have enough tourists to come to Saudi Arabia to enjoy other things."
Access to the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina will remain restricted as well.
Part of the Saudi Crown Prince's Vision 2030 initiative
Gulf News further reported that opening Saudi Arabia to tourists is a key milestone of Vision 2030, an initiative by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (commonly known as MBS) to diversify the country's economy away from oil.
Previously, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia were largely restricted to resident workers, business travelers and Muslim pilgrims, who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
As such, the aim is to increase the number of visits from the current number of 40 million a year, to 100 million annually by 2030, consisting of both domestic and international visits.
This is expected to create a million new jobs.
Rebuilding Saudi Arabia's image
Reuters and Bloomberg highlighted that the push to tourism could be affected as a result of the murder of journalist Kamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia's embassy in Istanbul in 2018, the war in Yemen, and the arrests of prominent women's rights activists.
Ahmed stressed however that Saudi Arabia is a welcoming nation.
He said in Bloomberg, "We have hundreds of thousands of Saudi students who studied outside and came back, and we welcome different cultures, different religions. We are a very welcoming nation.”
Top image collage from whereintheworld.co Instagram and RYAD KRAMDI/AFP/Getty Images
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