Saudi Arabia has stopped granting of visas to those who wish to visit the kingdom only for tourism, Gulf News learnt on Monday.
The kingdom, to which people mainly come for Haj, Umrah or to visit Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) mosque in Madinah, issued 6,000 tourist visas in 2008, which rose to 20,000 in 2009.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) declined to comment on the decision but chairman of the consultative committee for organisers of tourist trips Prince Abdullah Bin Saud said this issue would be discussed with the president of the SCTA after Eid to find solutions to the hurdles impeding investment in the field of tourism.
He said the people working in the tourism sector had been angered by the SCTA’s decision to stop issuing tourist visas.
“This decision will not help develop domestic tourism,” he said.
Prince Abdullah noted a great leap in the number of people visiting Saudi Arabia as normal tourists during the past few years.
He said the number of tourist visas grew from 6,000 to 20,000 in just a year. “Officials in the SCTA should encourage this trend instead of halting the issuance of tourist visas,” he said.
Meanwhile, large numbers of Muslims are pouring into Saudi Arabia through its land, sea and air inlets. The numbers are expected to greatly increase during the last ten days of Ramadan. Many Muslims prefer to perform Umrah during Ramadan and to spend the last 10 days of the fasting month in the kingdom.
The Haj terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport is receiving 95 daily Haj flights against 76 daily departures. The government and private sectors in the airport have all geared up to receive the incoming pilgrims.
According to airport sources, about 15,000 people arrive daily through the airport to perform Umrah while about 10,000 leave the kingdom daily after performing the rituals.
The sources said since the beginning of the Umrah season in February, more than 1.4 million people had entered the kingdom to perform Umrah.
They expect those who have arrived in the kingdom for Umrah to be leaving the country starting from Ramadan 28, which is the night on which the Imam of the Grand Mosque concludes reciting the Quran.