Saudi Arabia’s recent move to open its doors to more people from the around the world has changed the overall outlook of the tourism industry in the Gulf region, a travel industry professional has said.
“The impact is already visible in the market,” said Avens Travel & Tours, Doha, managing director Naser Karukapadath, citing Saudi Arabia’s announcement that all GCC residents can now obtain a Saudi tourist visa regardless of their profession.
In a tweet last month, Saudi Minister of Tourism and Chairman of Saudi Tourism Authority Ahmed al-Khateeb stated: “Saudi visa application is now simpler, more convenient and straightforward for residents of GCC States, regardless of their profession. Apply now.”
According to Karukapadath, the number of passengers between Qatar and Saudi Arabia “have increased considerably by air and by road.”
“With the introduction of flynas, the only Saudi budget carrier operating between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the airfare has become more affordable between Doha and destinations in the kingdom compared to previous years and the seating capacity was also enhanced between the two brotherly countries due to flynas’s daily operation from Doha,” Karukapadath told Gulf Times in a statement.
He said there has been an increase in interest in Saudi Arabia as a travel destination since the announcement of the new visa policy.
“Majority of the expats living in Qatar couldn’t visit Saudi Arabia due to previous visa regulations. But the number of passengers is increasing due to the new visa regulation, as well as flynas’s 96 hours ‘Stopover Visa’ programme in Saudi Arabia, which is ideal for a short stay in the kingdom,” Karukapadath explained.
According to Karukapadath, as a national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, Flynas is offering 96 hours visa (stopover visa) for travellers en route to their final destination. Passengers can stay in Saudi Arabia for up to four days at the place of their choice. This is a new addition to the current e-visa to Saudi Arabia, he said.
“Since the introduction of the electronic visa, travel agencies in Qatar are providing services to customers through the online application system, which is the most convenient and quickest way to apply for a Saudi tourist visa for Qatar expats.
“According to reliable sources, all GCC residents are eligible to apply for a visa irrespective of their profession in the resident permit. Nationals of more than 40 countries are eligible for e-visa, and they will receive their visa copies by email once it is approved by MoFA,” he further explained.
Karukapadath said regionally the new policy will create a positive impact due to the increase in the number of intra-GCC travellers as tourists or visitors. This will contribute a good share of revenue to air travel, surface transport, and hospitality businesses, among others, in the region, he noted.
He said Saudi Arabia, which is steadily liberalising policies, offers a variety of unexplored destinations, such as Wadi al Bardani in the South West and Wadi Al Disah in the North West, where tourists can enjoy the natural beauty of green valleys in the desert.
“Tourists can experience hot and cool weather at the same time as the geography of the country is very unique. Also, the capital city of Riyadh is fully occupied with year-round entertainment activities for tourists and visitors. Those who love history and culture will enjoy places like Al Diriya in Riyadh, Al Ula, and Taif. There is also year-round pilgrimage traffic to Makkah and Madinah,” he said.
Karukapadath stressed the importance of creating awareness of Saudi Arabia’s destinations, citing the exhibitions and roadshows organised by the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) in the region and in other countries.
“As a promoter, we are planning to organise familiarisation trips for the media, social media bloggers, and community representatives of various nationalities, including potential tour operators in Qatar, to boost the awareness of Saudi’s touristic destinations and enable them to promote traffic there for tourism or pilgrimage,” he added.