The Saudi Press Agency has announced that a royal decree has been issued authorizing pilgrims who come to kingdom to perform Umrah will now be allowed to travel to all parts of the kingdom on their visits within the validity period of their visa. Previously, those who entered Saudi Arabia on a visa to perform Umrah were restricted to the areas around Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina.
In the 2018-2019 Umrah season, more than seven million pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia on Umrah visas, according to the country’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. The highest number of pilgrims during this period came from Pakistan (1.6 million), followed by Indonesia (950,000), India (645,000) and Egypt (538,000).
Later this year, Saudi Arabia is widely expected to roll out more changes to its traditionally strict visa issuance policies as it prepares to open the kingdom to tourism as part of an effort to diversify the Saudi economy and reduce the government’s reliance on oil revenues.
While not yet world renowned for tourism because of its tight restrictions on travel to and around the country, Saudi Arabia nevertheless has large expanses of pristine deserts, undisturbed wildlife habitats, and five UNESCO-designated world heritage sites that rarely see foreign visitors.
The kingdom’s UNESCO-designates sites include the Al-Hijr archaeological site of Mada’in Saleh (2008), the At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah (2010), Old Jeddah and the Gate to Mecca (2014), the rock art of Hail (2015), and the Al-Ahsa Oasis (2018).
UNESCO also has a “tentative list” of 11 additional sites that it is evaluating and considering for further inclusion on its world heritage list in the future.