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Saudi tourists wear helmets and keep their faces and hair covered according to local custom, as they pose for a photo before zip lining between cliffs, during the al-Soudah festival in Abha, southwest Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Saudi Arabia will likely start issuing tourist visas starting Sept. 27, Okaz newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

The visas will be available for citizens of 51 countries for a fee of 440 riyals ($117) and will have a 90-day duration, the newspaper said.

Tourists can apply for the visas online or upon arrival, it said.

Saudi Arabia has been loosening social restrictions since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embarked on a plan to overhaul the economy to reduce its reliance on oil. Concerts, dance shows and film screenings have attracted thousands of people over the last year.

The kingdom is building major tourism projects and transforming its Red Sea coastline to bring in holidaymakers.

It’s also developing a cultural, sports and entertainment city and a luxury destination on its northwest coast.

Authorities have also announced plans to restrict certain hospitality jobs for its own citizens by the end of the year.

Saudi Arabia is launching massive projects to open up the tourism sector and boost the number of people visiting the kingdom under a highly ambitious drive led by Mohammed to diversify the economy and to shed its ultra-conservative image.

Opening up the tourism sector and highlighting new destinations, other than the religious sites in Makkah and Madinah, in the vast kingdom will create numerous employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.

On August 1, Prince Mohammed announced the launch of an international tourism project, The Red Sea, a resort built across a lagoon of 50 untouched islands to be developed in partnership with some of the world’s leading hospitality firms.

The Red Sea is largely expected to spearhead the diversification of the Saudi leisure industry.

Laws on par with international standards will govern the newly mapped semi-autonomous area and the first phase, which will include development of hotels, luxury residential units and all logistical infrastructure such as air, land and sea transport hubs, is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.