Saudi Arabia to allow unaccompanied women tourists

Female visitors over the age of 24 will be granted visas even if they are not travelling with a male guardian

Saudi Arabia hopes to attract tourists to archaeological sites such as Madain Saleh, north-west of Riyadh. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
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Saudi Arabia will allow women older than 24 to visit the country without a male guardian as part of a new policy to promote tourism in the kingdom.

Women tourists below that age will still need to be accompanied by a family member, a Saudi tourism official told the Arab News daily.

"The tourist visa will be a single-entry visa, and valid for 30 days maximum," said Omar Al Mubarak, director general of licensing department of Saudi Arabia's Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

"This visa is added to those currently available in the Kingdom. It is independent of work, visit, Hajj and Umrah visas."

Read more: Saudi Arabia to launch tourist visa in early 2018

The tourism authority has said the kingdom will begin issuing tourist visas in the next few months.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, the head of the tourism commission, said the cost of the new tourist visa had not yet been decided but would be kept "as low as possible, because we believe the cumulative economic impact is greater than the cash from the visa".

Saudi Arabia currently grants tourist visas to a limited number of countries, but even those applications involve a range of restrictions, including requirements to travel through an accredited company and stay at designated hotels.

The kingdom attracted more than 32,000 visitors during a trial of the tourist visa system between 2008 and 2010.

The promotion of tourism in the world's 12th biggest country is a key component of the Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the kingdom's economy and reduce dependence on oil revenues. The move is expected to create more jobs and maintain visitor numbers outside of the peak seasons for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the driving force behind Vision 2030, announced in August a project to turn 50 islands and a string of sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

The crown prince is also trying to change Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative image. In recent months, the kingdom has broken with some of its most rigid rules - lifting a ban on cinemas, announcing that women will be allowed to drive, and allowing genders to mix at a national celebration.

Read more: Year in review: Women gear up for a new dawn in Saudi Arabia