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Tourists tour the rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh near the city of AlUla. Image Credit: Reuters file

Cairo: More than 17 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia in the first seven months of this year, a Saudi official has said, as the kingdom is seeking to boost its tourism industry as part of overhauling its economy.

“We expect to surpass this figure in the second half of the year,” Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Tourism Authority Fahd Hamidadin was quoted as saying at a recent tourism conference in Riyadh.

Around 8 million visitors came to Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of this year, two times higher than expected, the official added.

The number of Muslims arriving in the kingdom to perform Umrah or minor pilgrimage in the first three months of the year reached 4.1 million, he said.

Saudi Arabia aims to receive 25 million foreign tourists this year.

In recent years, the kingdom has offered a set of facilities designed to draw more foreign tourists to the country as it seeks to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

They include the issuance of tourist visas on arrival or online for citizens of several nationalities.

In July, Saudi Arabia launched a business visit electronic visa, dubbed the “visiting investor visa”, aimed to facilitate a foreigner’s trip to the kingdom to explore investment opportunities there.

Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, has in recent months introduced a slew of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country to perform Umrah.

Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourism visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) is located in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi citizens can apply for visas inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah.

Saudi Arabia has also issued a stopover transit visa, allowing the holder to perform Umrah, visit the Prophet’s Mosque and attend different events across the kingdom. The four-day transit visa is valid for 90 days.