Happy to be in Saudi Arabia

December 16, 2018
Western tourists are seen attending a Formula E race in Riyadh, Saturday. — Reuters
Western tourists are seen attending a Formula E race in Riyadh, Saturday. — Reuters

  • Western tourists flock to Riyadh
  • 1,000 foreigners from 80 countries receive ‘Sharek’ visa
  • Boosting tourism revenue is part of economic reforms

RIYADH — Western tourists visited this weekend under a new visa system, as the Kingdom diversifies its economy away from oil.

Thousands of fans flocked to Riyadh’s historic Diriyah district for Formula E, a motor sports tournament using electric vehicles, and concerts including by David Guetta and Black Eyed Peas.

An American named Jason is spending a week here with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites in Ushaiger, 200 km (120 miles) northwest of the capital.

“The race sounds interesting but to be honest it was a means to see the country. We’re happy to be here,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here.”

Aaron, a 40-year-old software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. He and a few dozen other adventure travelers seeking to visit every country in the world.

“Saudi Arabia’s always been an exotic place... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said as circus performers entertained guests in between races.

Some 1,000 foreigners from 80 countries received the new “sharek” visa, which is linked to a specific entertainment event, the authorities said.

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand...” said Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

Whizzing electric racecars wound through the ruins of Diriyah, the capital of the first Saudi state built by the ruling Al-Saud family three centuries ago.

The UNESCO world heritage site is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation, celebrating a telling of national history.

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, is seeking to develop new industries to wean the world’s top oil exporter off petro-dollars.

Tourism is high on the agenda. Reforms aim to lift total spending — by locals and foreigners — to $46.6 billion in 2020 from $27.9 billion in 2015.

The ‘Saudia’ Ad Diriyah E-Prix and accompanying events, such as concerts with international artists like Black Eyed Peas, marked several firsts for Saudi Arabia.

The championship race on Saturday marked the beginning of the fifth season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

During the race, 11 Formula E teams used their Gen2 cars in competition for the first time.

Fan zones, entertainment and cultural attractions, plus unique dining and retail experiences, were also part of the festivities for Formula E ticket holders.

The first-of-its-kind three-day event in Saudi Arabia, included concerts by globally-acclaimed musicians such as Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, Amr Diab, OneRepublic and David Guetta. — Agencies

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