Saudi Arabia will open to non-religious tourism for the first time after announcing a new visa regime on Friday (September 27).

The Saudi state will make electronic visas available to tourists, having previously focused almost exclusively on religious visitors engaged in the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which draws millions each year.

However, the government aims to increase visitor numbers to 100 million by 2030 as part of its Vision 2030 plans to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

It hopes to triple travel and tourism’s contribution to Saudi GDP from 3% to 10%.

Saudi Arabia has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: historic Jeddah; Madain Saleh, a site of the Nabataean civilization south of Petra; the At-Turaif District of Ad-Diriyah, the first Saudi capital; the 10,000-year old rock art of the Hail Region; and the world’s largest oasis Al-Ahsa.

Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, his excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb said: “Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country.

“Generous hospitality is at the heart of Arabian culture. We look forward to showing guests a very warm welcome.”