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Saudi Arabia's Tourist Visa Program Opens Country To Foreigners

12/06/2013 04:24 EST
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An aerial view shows the Abraj al-Bait Towers also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, over shadows the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, on October 27, 2012. Muslims worldwide celebrate the Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice, marking the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God's command. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

(Relaxnews) - Saudi Arabia launched a new tourist visa program this week that allows foreigners to visit the kingdom’s tourist and historical sites.

Announced out of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities earlier this year, visitors are now able to apply for a tourist visa under the Extended Umrah Tourism Programme and stay in the country for up to 30 days.

According to the Saudi Gazette, foreigners from 65 countries will be eligible for the new tourist visa. Before this week, only tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- were allowed visa-free entry into the country.

Saudi Arabia is home to two of the holiest mosques in Islam: Masjid al-Haram (also known as the Grand Mosque) in Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (also known as the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, home of Muhammad’s tomb.

Tourism is the second biggest industry for Saudi Arabia, which saw revenues rise 10 percent, mostly from Islamic pilgrimages.

It’s estimated that about 3 million people undertake the Hajj pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque every year.

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