As a young Malaysian-Chinese, Saudi Arabia has long been a distant, mysterious place to me and my peers. I would only hear snippets of this land from my Muslim compatriots who had travelled to the country to perform their Hajj in Makkah. Aside from this, of course, I’ve heard of its abundant oil reserves and endless stretches of desert. It seemed that there wasn’t much else that most people knew about Saudi Arabia.
But I’m not totally at fault. Tourism is probably the best way to learn about other countries and, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, there just weren’t a lot of first-hand accounts of leisure holidays and backpacking trips to the kingdom. For a long time, travelling to Saudi Arabia for conventional tourism purposes proved to be restricted, with no actual tourist visas available for the typical holidaymaker.
Speaking from personal experience, I was told that I could gain entry into the Kingdom via a commercial visa sponsored by a local company. Obtaining one could be time-consuming and involve many technicalities. But, that is about to change.
On September 27, the Saudi government formally announced the issuance of the long-awaited tourist visa to visitors of 49 countries, in line with the kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030, an ambitious development plan aimed at transforming the kingdom’s public service sectors, like infrastructure, tourism, recreation, healthcare, education, telecommunications, and diversifying its economy.
From the few weeks that have met with government personnel and industry leaders, it is clear to me that the country, particularly the capital Riyadh, has become a hive of activity. Everyone wants to do their part in helping making Saudi Vision 2030 a reality.
The Saudi Telecom Company Group has officially launched the fifth generation (5G) wireless network service in a number of cities, making Saudi Arabia one of the handful of countries worldwide with 5G network capabilities.
Being able to witness these developments and having the opportunity to tell them, I realize that the timing of my visit to Saudi Arabia couldn’t have come at a better time. As the world watches, the government has set the stage, all ready to deliver a virtuoso performance.