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Irish citizens among those who can now get a tourist visa to Saudi Arabia for the first time

Visas for the desert kingdom had until now been restricted to foreign workers or pilgrims to the country’s holy sites.

The Elephant Rock in Ola, Saudi Arabia
The Elephant Rock in Ola, Saudi Arabia
Image: Shutterstock

IRISH CITIZENS ARE among those from 49 nations who can now get a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia, with the nation easing the dress code for foreign women to help encourage new visitors.

The ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom is seeking to tempt holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

Visas for the desert kingdom had until now been restricted to foreign workers or pilgrims to the country’s holy sites.

The visa will allow tourists enter the country for up to three months, will be valid for a year and will cost about €107.

The kingdom says there will be will be no restrictions on unaccompanied foreign women but that non-Muslims will still not be allowed visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

A briefing provided by the Saudi consulate outlines that strict Muslim dress codes will not apply to foreigners.

The body-shrouding abbaya robe is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women but in a new sign of cultural rebellion some have stopped wearing the item.

“It is not mandatory to wear an abbaya or hijab. However, all visitors should dress decently,” the note says.

Saudi Arabia’s ban an alcohol remains in place.

Announcing the new visas today, Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb said it was “a historic moment for our country”.

Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome. Visitors will be surprised and delighted by the treasures we have to share. Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.

The tourism push comes just under two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure –- blamed by Washington on Iran –- which roiled global energy markets and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.

The country is also attempting to rebuild its reputation following global condemnation of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s embassy in Turkey last year. 

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

The sector is expected to create up to one million tourism jobs, the government says, as it battles high youth unemployment.

In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to turn 50 islands and other pristine sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

As well as Ireland, many European countries and the United States are included in the 49 that can can now avail of the tourist visa.

Last year, construction of Qiddiya “entertainment city” was launched near Riyadh, which would include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area.

The country is also developing historic sites such as the centuries-old Mada’in Saleh, home to sandstone tombs of the same civilisation which built the Jordanian city of Petra.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2019

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Rónán Duffy

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