Saudi Arabia Courts Tourists
Saudi Arabia, for the first time, is opening up to international tourism.
The historic move is widely seen as a way for the Middle Eastern country to lessen its dependence on revenue from oil.
Friday, the kingdom will announce the 49 countries whose residents will be eligible for visas to Saudi Arabia.
As part of the tourism scheme, Saudi Arabia is also relaxing its dress code for female tourists.
Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb told Reuters female tourists will not have to wear the long black robes that Saudi women wear, but their dress must still be modest.
Visas for unaccompanied women will also be available without any of the restrictions that have been imposed in the past.
The holy cities of Mecca and Medina will remain off limits to non-Muslim tourists, and alcohol will still be banned.
Until now, visas were mostly issued to resident workers and their dependents, business travelers and Muslim pilgrims.
The new influx of tourists is expected to create 1 million jobs, according to Saudi officials.
In addition to opening another income stream, the new visa program is widely seen as a means for Saudi Arabia to burnish its tarnished image after last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the arrest of prominent women activists.
Source: Voice of America