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Saudi Arabia Opens Up to Travel

The Saudi Arabian cabinet has recently announced the introduction of a tourist visa, opening one of the most reclusive countries in the Middle East to personal travel.

This staunchly conservative land, extremely protective of its Islamic traditions, has always tried to prevent its population from being “contaminated” by foreign influences by barring independent travelers from the country. On the other hand, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina annually receive more than two million Muslim pilgrims from all over the world. An estimated additional eight million expatriates from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe keep the economy going.

The change announced by the Saudi cabinet this past April is also based upon economics: The business community has made enormous investments in the tourism infrastructure, which is catering almost exclusively to the seasonal demands of a domestic market. By opening the country to foreign visitors, facilities can be used year round and generate an estimated two billion dollars in extra revenues. This would reduce the dependency on oil exports and create more job opportunities for Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing population.

Foreign visitors are required to travel in groups and use a local company. A Saudi agent receives the travelers upon arrival and provides transport, accommodations, and other services until departure. At least in the early stages, travel in Saudi Arabia will resemble tourism in Eastern Europe before the fall of the wall.

For More Info

Department of Antiquities and Museums, P.O. Box 3734, Riyadh 11481, Saudi Arabia; 011-966-1-403-2917, fax 011-966-1-404-1391.

Secretariat General of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, P.O. Box 61681, Riyadh 11575, Saudi Arabia; 011-966-1-441-0396, fax 011-966-1-441-0797.

Saudi Arabian Information Resource, www.saudinf.com. The official site of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Information contains detailed information on Saudi Arabian society, culture, and history.

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