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Saudi expands online visa programme in tourism drive

Visitors to Saudi Arabia perform the Umrah pilgrimage via Reuters
The expanded online visa allows tourists to visit Saudi Arabia for leisure, business and the Umrah pilgrimage
  • Eight countries added to online tourist visa programme
  • 2022 visitor numbers up 93%
  • Saudi wants 100 million visitors by 2030

Saudi Arabia has added eight new countries to its list of nationalities that can apply for a tourist visa online, as the kingdom aims to attract 100 million visitors per year by 2030.

The addition of Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, South Africa, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the e-visa system allows people from these countries access to leisure and business travel, as well as visits for the Umrah pilgrimage.

It brings the total number of countries on the list to 57, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The e-visa, launched in 2019, is valid for an entire year, grants multiple entries, and permits a stay of up to 90 days at a time. 

Saudi Arabia welcomed 93.5 million visitors in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 93 percent, resulting in total tourism expenditure of SAR 185 billion ($49 billion). 

As part of the Vision 2030 programme, Saudi Arabia has set a target that the tourism sector will account for 10 percent of national GDP, from 6 percent today, and attract 100 million visitors per year by the end of the decade.

Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) last month reported a 52 percent year-on-year rise in international passenger traffic in the first half of 2023, climbing to 7.4 million.  

The growth was partly driven by the state-owned airline extending its reach to four continents.

Saudia operated a total of 37,600 international flights, marking 30 percent growth.

To help meet its 2030 target, the kingdom is set to launch a second international airline, Riyadh Air, in 2025.  

It aims to increase the number of passengers through its 29 airports from 100 million to 330 million by 2030.

Data compiled for AGBI by travel trends and analytics company ForwardKeys shows that total international arrivals to the kingdom for 2022 were still significantly down – by 40 percent – on pre-pandemic 2019.

But in the first quarter of 2023 flight bookings grew by 3 percent compared with the same period of 2019.

Saudi Arabia earlier this year also announced the launch of the free 96-hour Stopover Visa, which allows passengers to stay in the country for up to four days.