Starting this year, pilgrims on visit visas to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia will have permission to travel anywhere in the Kingdom during their stay.
On Tuesday, the Saudi Cabinet took the decision to liberalize the strict visa regulations that had earlier limited people on pilgrimage to only the cities of Makkah, Madinah and the port city of Jeddah.
The decision was apparently taken as part of the Kingdom’s moves to open up the economy and plans to boost tourism. As part of the country’s ambitious 2030 vision the kingdom aims to increase the number of pilgrims arriving to perform Umrah each year from the current 8 million to 30 million by 2030.
Elaborating on the cabinet’s move, Issam bin Saeed, the acting media minister, said a royal decree had been enacted which will enable pilgrims to enjoy a broader experience of Saudi Arabia by visiting key landmarks, historic sites, tourist attractions and shopping centers.
“We are looking to enrich the experience of pilgrims and facilitate their arrival,” added Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.“Traveling around the Kingdom is an opportunity for pilgrims to visit cultural and tourist sites. At the same time, they will be allowed to arrive at any port in the country which will facilitate their arrival and expand the capacity to receive more pilgrims.”
In the past, pilgrims were allowed to convert their visas into a tourist visa on the condition that they were registered with a tourism program. Al-Maddah said: “We want to make it available to everyone in order to enrich the experience of the pilgrims, which is one of the goals of Vision 2030.”