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Saudi Arabia is taking a big step in opening its doors by announcing that it will start issuing tourist visas to travelers this spring.

Prince Sultan bin Salman announced that tourist visas will be available starting April 1.  In the past, visas were mainly allowed for business travelers, those visiting families and religious pilgrims visiting Mecca — although it did run a limited program that allowed tourists into the country from 2006 to 2010.

The country is embarking on a mission to decrease its economic dependance on oil and opening itself up to  tourism is just one of the ways it will do that.

“[Saudi Arabia] is open for people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes,” Prince Sultan bin Salman told the Associated Press. “And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.”

Still, visas will be subject to some restrictions. Females under 25 won’t be allowed into the country as solo travelers, The Telegraph reports. They’ll have to be accompanied by a family member if they want a 30-day tourist visa. Women in Saudi Arabia are still subject to strict laws, and only recently was a law passed allowing them to drive.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ascended the throne in 2017 and consolidated power with an “anti-corruption” crackdown, which had Saudi elites “jailed” in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh this fall. Salman is pushing for the country to adopt a more moderate and open form of Islam.

Saudi Arabia hopes to bring 30 million visitors to the Kingdom by 2030. Starting in late 2019, it will be begin a large construction project developing resorts on islands in the Red Sea, with the first phase being completed by the end of 2022. The resorts will be “governed by laws on par with international standards,” meaning conservative dress codes likely won’t be enforced in these areas. It’s unclear if alcohol will be allowed either, which is entirely banned in the country.

Mada’in Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will likely attract visitors to the country. The Kingdom is also building an “entertainment city”  outside of Riyadh that will rival Las Vegas — it will feature a Six Flags theme park and Safari Park.

Mada
The ruins of Mada’in Saleh in Saudi Arabia. Image by Sammy Six / Flickr.

Saudia, the Kingdom’s national airline, is a member of the SkyTeam alliance and operates five nonstop flights to the US. You can fly from Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and Washington DC (IAD) to either Jeddah (JED) or Riyadh (RUH) on the carrier’s Boeing 777.

saudia 777-300ER. image by alberto riva

TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva recently flew business on the carrier and said they had a decent hard product, but its soft product was lacking (especially because it doesn’t serve alcohol).

You can book Saudia flights from the US to Saudi Arabia with Delta SkyMiles for 42,500 one-way in economy or 85,000 in business. Air France’s Flying Blue will charge 40,000 miles one-way in economy and 100,000 in business.

Other carriers like British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines offer flights to the Kingdom, too.

Featured image by Sammy Six / Flickr.

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