Saudi Arabia issues over 400,000 tourist visas since launch

Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage chief identifies lack of tourism infrastructure as main challenge to growth

Saudi Arabia has issued more than 400,000 tourist visas since it opened its borders to foreign vacationers in late September, the country’s top tourism official said on Monday.

That number, which doesn’t include millions of religious pilgrims, drives home the challenges the conservative Islamic kingdom faces as it builds a tourism sector from scratch under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic diversification plan.

Its target is to draw 100 million visits a year by 2030.

“The problem we have, or the big challenge we have, is that the infrastructure isn’t there,” Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and a key adviser to the prince, said during an investment conference in Riyadh.

“The kingdom is very rich in this sector – it has natural treasures that need strong investments.”

Until tourist visa applications opened, Saudi Arabia had long been one of the hardest countries in the world to visit unless coming on a pilgrimage.

It’s got a long way to go before it can compare to long-established regional destinations.

Financial and leisure hub Dubai received 16.7 million international guests in 2019.

Saudi officials say they’ll need to add more flights and hotel rooms to meet demand as they chase their targets.

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