Saudi men attend the launch of the new Saudi tourist visa at the historic city of Diriyah, a Unesco World Heritage Site, in Riyadh September 27, 2019. — Reuters pic
Saudi men attend the launch of the new Saudi tourist visa at the historic city of Diriyah, a Unesco World Heritage Site, in Riyadh September 27, 2019. — Reuters pic

RIYADH, Oct 8 — Saudi Arabia welcomed 24,000 tourists in the 10 days after it issued tourism visas for the first time, state television reported today.

Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it would start offering tourist visas, opening up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

“In 10 days, some 24,000 foreigners entered Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa,” the television reported, citing the Saudi foreign ministry.

Up until September 27, the ultra-conservative Islamic state only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

To encourage arrivals, authorities announced Sunday they would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together.

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

Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia, several European nations, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, China and Kazakhstan. — AFP