With the kingdom just announcing that tourists from 49 countries will be welcomed to Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa sooner than we think, there also comes the news that female tourists will no longer need to purchase and wear an abaya during their stay.
Saudi Arabia’s tourist visa program is finally coming to fruition after having been in the pipeline for under Vision 2030 in a bid to boost the country’s tourism sector. An announcement was made recently at an event in Ad Diriyah by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) about the new visa program and Tourism Chief, Ahmed Al Khateeb, said in a statement, that the plan would be "opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.” He also added that the strict dress code that has applied to women in Saudi Arabia will no longer be a requirement for foreign females.
Over the past few years, conversations about women’s dress codes have been debated in detail and just last month, Ahmed bin Wasim Al Ghamdi, a Saudi Islamic scholar, spoke about the modest attire as he appeared on a TV show, Etijahat, "I don't see why a woman should be forced to wear an abaya in public. If she wears something that covers her body and hair, it's permissible regardless of the color or model of her clothes.” The kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman has also spoken about easing up on the modest dress code for women.
The modest dress code of the kingdom requires women to wear abayas, or a full length garment, in public. Though this rule will no longer apply to non-Saudi women, they must still observe a modest dress code when in public, including at beaches.
The new tourist visas are available to everyone from the 49 countries which include Japan, China and America, including women – without a male to accompany them on their visit. The visas will be available to obtain online and will cost around $80. For non-Muslim tourists, holy Islamic sites will not be accessible.
Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has been working on increasing the number of tourists to the kingdom and hopes to welcome around 1.5 million tourists by 2020. In the past, visiting Saudi Arabia was only for religious or business related reasons, and more recently, the country’s authorities have been making major efforts to attract more visitors for leisure purposes. Over the course of the past year, the kingdom has been hosting summer festivals, concerts, and sporting events and has offered up electronic visas for international attendees of the events.
After rolling out electronic visas late last year for the Formula E motoring event last December, the kingdom welcomed over 1000 tourists from around 80 countries visit and enjoy the events, and it was the same for the Jeddah Season Festival this summer.