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Saudi Arabia Begins Issuing Tourist Visas
Saudi Arabia Begins Issuing Tourist Visas

Saudi Arabia has started issuing tourist visas to groups of foreign tourists through licensed tour operators, Prince Sultan ibn Salman, secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism (SCT), announced earlier this week.

He said the tourist visa system was prepared with the support of Interior, Haj and Foreign Ministries.

This is a qualitative move to attract tourists to the Kingdom. It will allow foreign tourists to visit the Kingdom at any time throughout the year,?the SCT chief told a press conference at the World Trade Center here after opening the Saudi pavilion at the 13th Arabian Travel Market.

Prince Sultan said certification of tour operators kicked off this month and that 18 tour operators have been approved so far. He said details of a new tourism law would be unveiled in October.

Prince Sultan also said the government would establish three tourism-related colleges in the Kingdom. Currently only King Saud University in Riyadh offers a hospitality-related curriculum. He also announced that the Kingdom would witness five major tourism-related projects this year. Numbers and cost figures would be released in two months,?he said.

Certified tour operators will be able to issue tourist visas to facilitate the entry of international tourists. This will mark a first for the Kingdom, which currently offers a limited number of options for visitors to the country not involved in business or religious pilgrimages. Prince Sultan said that the commission would begin certifying tour guides in June.

The prince made his comments at the Supreme Commission for Tourism Pavilion at the Arabian Travel Market 2006, a tourism expo that was inaugurated yesterday at the Dubai World Trade Center by Mohammed ibn Rashed Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

Prince Sultan also revealed that the Saudi government has commissioned a study to identify the needs of the lodging sector, which includes hotels and other types of tourism-related accommodations, such as furnished villas and campgrounds. The recommendations of the study will be implemented next year in cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. One of the goals of the study is to implement the global standard for classifying hotels based on the five-star system.

The SCT has been working with other government agencies here and abroad, to phase in a system for facilitating tourists in the Kingdom.

The SCT has outlined three categories of tour guides that will be licensed by the government: General, regional, and site-specific.

The 13th annual Arabian Travel Market has registered a growth of 39 percent. The Saudi pavilion, covering 340 square meters, included traditional shows of crafts and music.

eTN

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