Once one of the most inaccessible countries in the world, Saudi Arabia, has now unveiled e-visas for passport holders of 49 countries, including the US, UK, the European Union, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. See all eligible countries here. Until now, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Not just this, in a move to attract more holidaymakers, Saudi Arabia is also allowing foreign men and women to rent hotel rooms together without proving they are related. The conservative Muslim kingdom will also permit women, including Saudis, to rent hotel rooms by themselves, in a break with previous regulations. This move is likely to encourage several unaccompanied women to travel more easily and for unmarried foreign visitors to stay together in the Gulf state, where sex outside of marriage is banned.
On Friday, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage confirmed the report to media stating,
All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels. This is not required of foreign tourists. All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in.
As part of the move, foreign women won’t have to wear an abaya, the flowing cloak that’s been mandatory attire for decades, though they will be instructed to wear “modest clothing”. However, alcohol remains banned.
- Saudi Arabia has been relatively closed off for decades and until recently unrelated men and women, including foreigners, could be severely punished for mixing in public
- Strict social codes have been relaxed in recent years and previously banned entertainment has flourished
- With an influx of tourists, the authorities are aiming for 100 million annual visits by 2030 and could push boundaries further and risk conservative backlash
- The kingdom ended a heavily criticised ban on women driving last year and in August granted women new rights to travel abroad, chipping away at a guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives
- In 2016, as the oil-price rout wreaked havoc on the kingdom’s finances, the government vowed to develop tourism as part of Prince Mohammed’s economic transformation plan
- Officials say it’s a promising non-oil sector that could help draw Saudi tourist dollars back home and bring in a new kind of foreign spending
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