International News

Saudi Arabia rolls out tourist visas for women without chaperone

A tourist visa – without a chaperone – will be available for women aged 25 and over, a spokesman for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) said on Thursday.
Women under 25 however must be accompanied by a family member.
“The tourist visa will be a single-entry visa, and valid for 30 days maximum. This visa will be added to those currently available in the Kingdom and is independent of work, visit, Hajj and Umrah visas,” said Omar al-Mubarak, the director general of the commission’s licensing department.
The SCTH had previously announced the start of tourism visa issuance would be announced during the first quarter of 2018.
“The executive regulations for tourist visas have been finalised. The commission’s IT department is currently building an electronic system for the issuance of tourist visas, coordinating with representatives of the National Information Centre and the Foreign Ministry,” al-Mubarak told Arab News.
Despite gradually becoming more open to tourism, Saudi Arabia retains some of the world’s most discriminatory laws against its female citizens, with restrictions on what they can wear and on traveling outside the country without the permission of male guardians.
It was only in September 2017 that authorities announced the lifting of the women’s driving ban.
Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Visa Initiative, which will begin this year, is part of the powerful crown prince’s plans to open up the secluded kingdom to foreign investors, as well as reduce the state’s reliance on petrodollars.
Currently, travellers can enter Saudi Arabia on transit and limited two week visas, but these are difficult to obtain and extremely expensive, putting them out of reach of most tourists.
The plan aims for 30 million visitors a year by 2030, up from 18 million in 2016, and it wants annual tourism spending to hit $47 billion by 2020.
Several ambitious projects have already been announced to attract tourists, including a luxurious Red Sea resort the size of Belgium, and a Six Flags theme park.
Riyadh has also gone to great efforts to promote historical sites such as the Nabatean desert complex of Madain Saleh to international markets.