In September 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that tourist visas will soon be issued to allow visits simply for pleasure and sightseeing purposes. The announcement was significant because previously, visa issuances were only for those coming over for religious and/or business purposes. Apparently, many welcomed the shift to non-religious tourism because at the end of 2019, the country’s tourism sector posted revenues at all time high of $19.849 million, compared to its record low of $3.418 million in 2003.
Shift to Non-Religious Tourism Part of Government’s Diversification Plans
The Kingdom’s shift to non-religious tourism is regarded as monumental since within 10 days after the first eVisas (Visas applied for and obtained online), 24,000 sight-seeing tourists arrived to explore the country’s sightseeing destinations. Actually, the introduction of eVisas to allow visitors coming from 49 countries, which includes the U.S. are all part of the Vision 2030 reform program under the auspices of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The comprehensive plan aims to wean the country’s economy from its reliance on the oil industry, by developing and promoting the tourism and entertainment sectors. The plan includes the launch of several infrastructure projects, such as the construction of an mega entertainment center in Riyadh, a high-tech resort destination along the Red Sea Coast, and restoration projects involving UNESCO World Heritage sites.
To encourage and attract Western tourists, the government of Saudi Arabia has relaxed some of the country’s restrictions, such as the conservative dress codes for women, as well as permitting female visitors to drive and travel on their own. Unmarried tourist couples are now allowed to lodge together in a hotel room. That being the case, the power and authority of the moral police have been curbed by the government.
What First Time Visitors Should Know about the Safety of Food and Water in Saudi Arabia
Tourists traveling in Saudi Arabia should be aware that the safety of food and drinking water tend to vary, as every region have different approaches in accessing drinking water. The quality of water depends on the region’s distribution system, local supply, and of how the local government observes and enforces water quality standards.
Although health authorities give assurance that desalinated water is guaranteed as a safe drinking water, the water’s quality may be affected in a specific area because of the folowing factors:
- Chemical pollutants;
- Agricultural run-off;
- Insufficient safe water storage;
- Natural events such as flooding;
- Animal or human waste;
- Outdated water treatment systems or pipes and;
- Bad sanitation infrastructure.
Tank cleaning company Wghsaada, gives advice to choose hotels or for-rent houses that have newer water storage tanks, which at the same time undergo regular cleaning.
Risk of food contamination in Saudi is also high, and the most common food items that should be consumed with caution include the following:
- Raw or barely cooked eggs, poultry, meat, seafood, and fish;
- Foods that have been uncovered or out of the refrigerator for a long period of time such as in buffets and
- Unpasteurized or unprocessed dairy products.
It is also important to be wary of where you eat, not only what you particularly eat. It may be a bit hard to identify which restaurants or eateries observe hygienic practices and proper handling although there are telltale signs. Avoid vendors, stalls or restaurants that appear unclean and/or don’t have a lot of customers.