Saudi Arabia is set to put tourist visa regulations in place. Saudi Arabia is set to put tourist visa regulations in place.

Saudi Arabia’s recent revelation took the world by storm: Saudi tourism visas will likely be issued in April 2018, and regulations have already been sent to the government for approval.

The opening of the borders that started with the Red Sea Tourism announcement in 2017 is now seen by the world as an attempt by the Kingdom to diversify its economy by attracting millions of tourists. The newly relaxed rules are a significant change for a country that has, in the past, avoided opening up to non-religious tourism.

The newly introduced electronic tourist visa is in line with the latest economic developments taking place in Saudi Arabia. This development highlights the important role of tourism as outlined in the Saudi national agenda. The Saudi Vision 2030 details a number of projects which are currently in the pipeline for Saudi Arabia, with the aim of positioning the kingdom as a global leader in the tourism sector.

According to Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director, Middle East and Africa for Marriott International, “the opening of the borders is a positive step in the right direction and will give further impetus to inbound travel to the country which is much needed”.

Certainly, the tourism and hospitality industry is a key focus in this changing market, with nearly 1,300 additional keys added to Saudi Arabia’s hotel market in Q3 2017, and hotel investment in the Kingdom on the rise. In addition to a number of plans to facilitate arrivals in the country, including airport and infrastructure upgrades, the country is planning to convert 50 islands off its Red Sea coast into a world-class tourism destination. The first phase of the Red Sea Project will be complete in 2022.

Currently, there are 187 hotel projects in the ‘planning’, ‘final planning’ and ‘in construction’ stages in Saudi Arabia, according to STR’s January pipeline report. The construction phase takes up the largest portion of the pipeline with approximately 40,000 rooms in 94 projects.

STR area director for the Middle East and Africa Philip Wooller said the country is going through a phase of massive supply.

“In the short term, we’ve already seen this growth affect performance levels, and this trend should continue as more and more properties start to come online. But it is important to note that this is part of a major long-term investment for the market to further develop its infrastructure to accommodate millions of annual visitors, who come for religious pilgrimages and as new tourism attractions spring up as part of Vision 2030,” Wooller noted.

Vision 2030, which was announced in 2017, is an initiative aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on oil and included investments into the tourism sectors.

The new visa announcements are a huge advantage for Marriott International. “The new visa regulations represent a strong indication for great things to come and a promising future for tourism in the Kingdom. This further strengthens our commitment to Saudi Arabia as one of strategic growth markets. We view this as a great opportunity and we are proud to be in a position to leverage our capabilities as the largest hotel chain operator globally to support the Kingdom in its upcoming projects,” said Kyriakidis in an interview with Hotelier Middle East.

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