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Saudi Arabia launches stopover visa as airlines ramp up capacity

The stopover visa helps tourists visit destinations such as Al-Turaif district in Diriyah, one of Saudi’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The stopover visa helps tourists visit destinations such as Al-Turaif district in Diriyah, one of Saudi’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Airlines set to increase seats on Saudi routes by over 65% in Q1
  • Visa helps passengers visit tourist destinations and attend events
  • Kingdom aims to attract 100m annual visitors by 2030

Saudi Arabia has announced the launch of a new stopover visa for tourists as airlines are expected to significantly increase capacity on routes to the kingdom.

The free-of-charge visa is open to a wider number of countries than the tourism e-visa and is Saudi Arabia’s latest move to make the destination more accessible.

The launch comes as airlines are set to increase seats on Saudi routes by over 65 percent in the first three months of 2023, compared to the same period last year when four of the 10 busiest international routes were to or from the kingdom.

Ahmed Al Khateeb, minister of tourism of Saudi Arabia and chairman of the Saudi Tourism Authority, said: “The new stopover visa is yet another proof point in Saudi’s commitment to developing and encouraging growth in the tourism sector. 

“It is open for travellers passing through Saudi on our national carriers whether for leisure, business or Umrah. We will continue to work together across government and the tourism ecosystem as Saudi transforms into a leading global tourism destination.”

The visa will allow passengers to stay in the country for up to 96 hours and visitors will be able to use it to perform the Umrah ritual. 

Stopover visa holders will also be eligible for a complimentary one-night hotel stay during the stopover when booking through Saudi Arabian Airlines, better known as Saudia. 

Custom 24, 48, 72 and 96-hour itineraries have been developed to inspire visitors to stroll through Jeddah’s central Al-Balad historic area, or visit the Al-Turaif district in Diriyah, one of Saudi’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO at Saudi Tourism Authority, said: “Today’s announcement is a landmark example of integrated public and private sector cooperation.

“Saudi is committed to a seamless visitor experience. In partnership with our national air carriers, Saudia and Flynas, we are using digital platforms to provide an instant stopover visa, which only enhances Saudi’s accessibility and our world-class destination offering.” 

The stopover visa application will be automatically available through the airline booking platforms for all passengers travelling to their final destination on the websites of Saudia and Flynas. 

Saudi visa
A Muslim pilgrim arrives at King Abdulaziz International Airport. Picture: Reuters/Ahmed Yosri

A stopover can be made through any airport in Saudi and the application process can be completed in under three minutes and can be applied for up to 90 days before travel. 

Ibrahim Koshy, CEO of Saudia, said the launch is a “the first of its kind in the aviation industry and a significant milestone” in the airline’s digital transformation programme.

The new service will also encourage passengers to perform Umrah, visit key destinations and attend events.

Under the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 strategy, the tourism sector’s contribution to gross domestic product aims to increase to more than 10 percent, while providing 1.6 million additional job opportunities by 2030. Saudi Arabia wants to attract 100 million annual visitors by the end of the decade.

Figures show that 1.3 million tourist visas were issued from 2019 to 2022 while the kingdom has also advanced 10 positions to 33rd over the past three years on the Travel and Tourism Development Index, which was topped by Japan, followed by the US, Spain, France and Germany.

United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) statistics show that Saudi Arabia attracted more than 18 million inbound visits in the first three quarters of 2022, outpacing the UAE (14.8 million tourists) and Morocco (11 million tourists) in the Middle East region.

On Monday Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions were further boosted by the launch of the AlUla Development Company, wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund, which will be central to transforming the ancient city into a global tourism destination. 

Planned developments include more than 7,500 hotel keys, 5,000 residential units, a staff village comprising over 1,000 units, plus supporting infrastructure.

AlUla Development Company said it will create jobs and opportunities for local businesses and communities while preserving one of the world’s largest and oldest cultural sites.

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