Saudi Arabia is set to welcome tourists into the country by the end of this year. The announcement was made this week by the head of Saudi Tourism and Heritage Authority, Ahmad al-Khatib, during a meeting at the World Tourism Organisation in Russia.
Previously, most visitors entering the country have been Muslims visiting the annual Haj pilgrimage or business trips, and the kingdom has no history of issuing tourist visas. Until now, visas are being issued on an intermittent basis. Visas for young single woman coming into the country was a particularly difficult procedure in the past.
Special tourist visas were granted earlier this year in order to gain access to a number of concerts and festivals. Artists such as Janet Jackson, Liam Payne and 50 Cent all performed in Jeddah, and visas were handed in as quickly as three minutes.
Tourist sites in Saudi Arabia include Nabatean city of Madein Saleh, the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, the historic Al Hejaz Railway station in Medina, Dir'aiyah, the ancestral home of the Al Saud family and Masmak Fortress, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With more than two million square kilometres, the country boasts itself as one of the biggest countries in the world and the biggest in the Arabian Peninsula.