Saudi Arabia stops tourist visas indefinitely

Saudi Arabia has stopped granting tourist visas to foreigners indefinitely.

No reason was cited for the move, a news agency reported quoting Saudi officials and tour operators.

Emirates 24/7 on August 31 reported that  Saudi Arabia had halted issuing tourist visa till February 2011"It was an unexpected decision for everyone...no official reason has been given and if the move is permanent, it will have great impact on travel companies in Saudi Arabia," said Ahmad Moustafa, deputy chairman of the Consultative Committee for Tour Operators.

In 2006, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, or SCTA, granted tourist visas to foreigners for the first time and licensed several tour operators to issue the visas. But SCTA said then that alcohol would remain banned, women must cover from head to toe and only Muslims can visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
 
"There has been no issue or a problem been recorded for the commission to cancel the visas," said Prince Abdullah bin Saud, chairman of the Consultative Committee for Tour Operators.
 
On the contrary, the Arab world's largest economy saw the number of its tourist visas rise to 20,000 in 2009, from 6,000 in 2008, he told reporters in Jeddah earlier this month.

Several Saudi tour operators said that the SCTA wants to focus just on domestic tourism for the time being.

In June, Saleh Al Bakhit, deputy-chairman for investments at SCTA, told the official Saudi Press Agency that the kingdom will see this year a rise of 4.8 per cent in revenue from tourism as the kingdom tries to attract more visitors and religious pilgrims.
 
Tourism revenue will reach SAR66 billion in 2010 and rise to SAR118 billion by 2015, Al Bakhit said.

Fledgling tourism's share of the Saudi economy reached 47 billion Saudi riyals ($12.5 billion) in 2008, or 2.7% of gross domestic product and 6.9% of the non-oil economy, according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, or SAMA.

More than 2 million pilgrims visit Mecca every year to perform the haj pilgrimage, the world's largest annual religious pilgrimage.

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