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Sunday 29 September 2019

So you fancy visiting Saudi Arabia? Now is your chance.

Saudi Arabia is set to welcome international tourists for the first time, opening up a new frontier for adventurous travellers.

No fewer than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Red Sea coast and the Empty Quarter will be open to tourism with the change fuelling investment and aimed at creating a million jobs.

Details of visa availability was this weekend announced at a gala event at Ad-Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Riyadh - and Australians are among those who will be admitted.

Visitors seeking unexplored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and natural beauty will be able to access sites including:

# Madain Saleh (below) in Al-Ula, the largest conserved site of the civilisation of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan.

# At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah, the first capital of the Saudi state.

# Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, characterised by a distinctive architectural tradition.

# Rock Art in the Hail Region, showing 10,000-year old inscriptions of human and animal figures.

# Al-Ahsa Oasis, with 2.5 million date palms the largest oasis in the world.

Saudi Arabia is home to 13 regions, each with a distinctive cultural tradition, and its highlights include the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran, the modernist sculpture park along the Corniche in Jeddah, Nassif House in Jeddah's historical district and the The Red Sea International Film Festival launching in March 2020.

Saudi Arabia boasts a diverse range of landscapes, including the green mountains of Asir, the crystal waters of the Red Sea, the snow-covered winter plains of Tabuk and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.

A number of new tourist destinations are currently under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiya entertainment city near Riyadh and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.

Opening Saudi to tourism is a key plank in the implementation of the Vision 2030 policy, which seeks to diversify the country's economy and reduce its dependence on oil.

By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10% towards the Saudi GDP, compared to just 3% today.

His Excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said: "Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.

"Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture and we look forward to showing our guests a very warm welcome."

Applications for the visa can now be made at Saudi Embassies and Consulates across the world although citizens from 49 countries - including Australia and New Zealand - will also be able to apply for an e-Visa online or get a Visa on arrival into Saudi Arabia.

A dedicated online portal at has been launched and electronic kiosks are available at airports.

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