Saudi Arabia: 24,000 tourists visit in 10 days after introduction of tourist visas

Visitors from China topped the list, with 7,391 holidaymakers visiting the kingdom

Saudi Arabia welcomed 24,000 tourists to the kingdom within the first 10 days of a new visa system being unveiled to encourage foreign visitors as part of a plan to expand its economy.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry published a list of the top ten countries that applied for a tourist visa since the system went into effect on September 27.

Topping the list was China with 7,391 visitors, followed by UK with 6,159 and the United States with 2,132.

The kingdom also hosted tourists from Canada, Malaysia, France, Germany, Russia, Australia and Kazakhstan.

A vibrant tourism sector is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

Visas can be obtained online or upon arrival. Tourists can visit the kingdom several times within a one-year period, with a 90-day limit per visit.

The new system also allows Muslim visitors to perform Umrah without the need for a Saudi sponsor.

Pilgrimage is the backbone of Prince Mohammed’s economic reform plan as it attracts a huge number of visitors to the kingdom year-round.

Before the new regulations were brought about, pilgrimage visas used to bar travel outside the holy cities of Makkah and Madina.

The kingdom hopes that tourism will contribute up to 10 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product by 2030, compared to the three per cent it currently generates.

By 2030 the country aims to attract up to 100 million annual visits.

The kingdom is also set to stage its first international tennis tournament in December.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Stanislas Wawrinka and rising star Daniil Medvedev are two big names already signed up to appear in the eight-player hard-court event.

"Hosting world-class international tennis in Saudi Arabia for the very first time is another watershed moment for the kingdom," said Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, chairman of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia.

The tournament will be staged in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh.