- Saudi Arabia banned all pilgrims due to coronavirus fears on Thursday, but seems reluctant to crack down on those using its brand-new tourist visa.
- The Saudi foreign ministry banned people undertaking the Umrah pilgrimage from entering the country, regardless of their country of origin.
- However, for those using a tourist visa, which was launched in September 2019, Saudi officials are only restricting travel from 26 countries hit particularly hard.
- It suggests a reluctance to disrupt the nascent tourism industry, which is being championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who hopes it will make up 10% of Saudi GDP by 2030.
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Saudi Arabia on Thursday banned all pilgrims due to the coronavirus , but did not act with the same severity to restrict those patronizing its fledgling tourist industry.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would decide which tourists to exclude on a country-by-country basis, contrasting with the blanket ban on those wanting to complete the Umrah pilgrimage .
"Entry to the Kingdom with a tourist visa from countries with confirmed Coronavirus outbreaks, according to criteria established by Saudi health authorities, is temporarily suspended," the statement said.
It later listed 26 countries and territories, including those like China, South Korea, and Italy, which have the worst coronavirus outbreaks.
Saudi officials did not explain the logic for their differing approach to pilgrimages and general tourism. However, the tourism push is a project with personal significance to the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Visas were first rolled out in September 2019, ending a decades-long period in which coming to Saudi Arabia for the sole purpose of tourism was impossible.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Tourism is yet to confirm the blacklisted countries, but according to the news network al-Arabiya the following countries are covered:
They are China, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Philippines, Singapore, India, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, and Vietnam.
Crown Prince Mohammed has invested heavily in tourism as part of Vision 2030, his ambitious plan to open up new revenue streams and ease the nation's dependence on oil.
Crown Prince Mohammed's goal is for 100 million tourists a year to visit by 2030, and wants the industry to eventually constitute 10% of Saudi GDP.
Hajj and Umrah, the two main Islamic pilgrimages, are already worth $12 billion a year to Saudi Arabia, according to Quartz.
400,000 tourist visas have been issued since their launch. Those wanting to come on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia cannot use the tourist visa, and must apply for a Hajj or Umrah visa.
It has so far been seen internally as a success. Saudi Arabia has high unemployment, and the industry is set to create one million new jobs, according to officials.
A number of high-profile events are to take place in the coming days and could suffer from the ban restricting the number of tourists.
On Thursday, Akon is headlining the JTTX music festival in Jeddah, while at the same time, the WWE Super ShowDown is happening in Riyadh.
Super ShowDown is going ahead, and has not been affected, Dan Humphreys, a spokesman for the WWE Corporation, told Insider.
On Friday, Lionel Richie and Craig David are to play sets at the Winter at Tantora festival in AlUla, in northern Saudi Arabia.
The street artist Banksy opened a show in Riyadh last week which is open until April.
The timing of the ban comes at an exciting and seminal moment for the project.
On Tuesday, a royal decree announced the creation of the official Ministry of Tourism , which is replacing the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
Saudi Arabia had previously taken some measures to stop the spread of the virus.
On February 6, Saudi Arabia banned all citizens and expats from visiting China , and announced fines for those who violate it.
"Trips to China by citizens or (foreign) residents are suspended in accordance with the preventive health measures the kingdom has adopted against the virus," the official SPA news agency said.
On Saturday, all citizens and expats were banned from visiting Iran , and on Tuesday, citizens were advised not to go to Italy or Japan.
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