Saudi Arabia welcomed 24,000 tourists within the first ten days of the implementation of instant tourist visas, AFP reported on Tuesday October 8th, according to state television.
"In ten days, some 24,000 foreigners entered Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa," the television reported, citing a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement.
The Ministry issued numbers of visitors from the top ten countries using the new system, with China topping the list, and the United Kingdom and the United States in second and third position respectively.
European nations France and Germany were also on the list, along with Canada, Malaysia and Russia after the top three. Australia and Kazakhstan were in ninth and tenth place.
On September 27th, Saudi Arabia announced it would start offering tourist visas, opening up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.
The kingdom also eased its dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-covering abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women. Authorities announced they would also relax the requirement for all foreign couples to be married.
Until September 27th, the kingdom only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, business travellers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.
Each year Mecca received 3.7 million Muslims for the Hajj and millions more for the Umrah.
This move came as part of ‘Kickstarting Tourism’, 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.
Tourists from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival at airports in the kingdom, including the US, Australia, several European nations, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, China and Kazakhstan.
The new visa system also allows ease of access for Muslims to perform Umrah outside of the Hajj season without the need for a sponsor, as is the case with work permit visas.
The new visa system was introduced in an attempt to create one million jobs within the kingdom, as well as targeting 100 million tourists by 2030 as part of ‘Vision 2030’.