SaudiArabia threw open its doors to foreign tourists on Friday, launching a new visaregime for 49 countries and appealing to foreign companies to invest in asector it hopes will contribute 10% of gross domestic product by 2030.
Tourismchief Ahmed al-Khateeb told Reuters in an interview ahead of the officialannouncement that abayas will not be mandatory but modest dress covering shouldersand knees is, including at public beaches.
Heindicated that alcohol remains banned: "We will have enough tourists tocome to Saudi Arabia to enjoy other things."
Visasare now available online, on arrival or at Saudi diplomatic missions for about$120 including a health insurance fee, according to a press kit. Outboundcountries include the United States, Russia, China, Japan and many Europeanstates, with more to be added later.
Visasallow multiple entries and stays of up to 3 months. There are no restrictionsfor unaccompanied women as in the past, and Muslims can perform pilgrimageoutside of haj season, the press kit said.
Untilnow, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted toresident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrimswho are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Plansto admit significant numbers of leisure tourists have been discussed for years,only to be blocked by conservative opinion and bureaucracy. An e-visa forsporting events and concerts was introduced last December.
Themove is part of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitiousplans to develop new industries to wean the world's top oil exporter off crudeand open up society including by introducing previously banned entertainment.