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Visitors tour the rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh near the city of Al Ula. Image Credit: Reuters file

Cairo: Nearly 5 million people visited Saudi Arabia in the last two months, a minister has said as the kingdom is seeking to diversify its oil-reliant economy and attract more foreign visitors.

The number of visitors to Saudi Arabia reached 2.4 million in January and surged to 2.5 million in February, said Tourism Minister Ahmad Al Khateeb.

“The tourism sector in the kingdom has recorded historic figures in occupancy rates and the number of visitors from abroad,” he said in an online meeting with tourism investors across the kingdom.

The tourism ministry looks forward to cooperation, particularly from hospitality sector operators in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are experiencing a high turnout during the current holy Islamic month of Ramadan when Umrah or lesser pilgrimage peaks, he said.

Millions of Muslims from around the globe flock to the holy places in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Ramadan, for worshipping, undertaking Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, has in recent months unveiled 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 Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is located in the Prophet’s Mosque.

Saudi authorities have also extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport.

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.

The kingdom has also said GCC residents are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, allowing them to perform Umrah.

Saudi Arabia aims to receive 25 million foreign tourists in 2023, Minister Al Khateeb said in January.