Riyadh, Mar 13: In a bid to allow non-Muslim tourists to visit historic sites such as Jeddah, Riyadh and the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia is planning to issue tourist visas. This will be the first time that the Saudi kingdom will issue visas specifically for tourism. Non-Muslim travellers, however, will not be allowed to visit the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

One would need to book through a registered tour operator to obtain a tourist visa in Saudi Arabia. There needs to be at least four guests travelling to Saudi Arabia to get the tourist visa. The visas will need to be attested by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. Women below 25 years of age can apply for tourist visas but will need a “companion” in order to enter Saudi Arabia.

According to tour company Abercrombie & Kent, which already takes visitors to Saudi Arabia under the existing visa rules, women need to wear headscarves in accordance with the country’s conservative laws and stay with the group during the visit. Saudi Arabia officials have been talking about opening the country to tourism since 2016.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has initiated the lifting of a number of restrictions, particularly on women, since last year.