RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb chaired the 119th session of the Executive Council of the UN World Tourism Organization.

The meeting was being held as part of the UNWTO General Assembly taking place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, until Oct. 20.

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev opened the assembly’s 25th session, being attended by ministers and high-level delegates from more than 150 countries.

On the sidelines of the assembly, Al-Khateeb met Moroccan Minister of Tourism, Handicrafts, and Social and Solidarity Economy Fatim-Zahra Ammor, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Ecology, Environmental Protection, and Climate Change Aziz Abduhakimov, and Argentina’s Secretary of Tourism Promotion and Deputy Minister of Tourism and Sports Yanina Alejandra Martinez.

The talks all revolved around ways to enhance cooperation, promote sustainable tourism, and implement best practices in the sector.

On Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Tourism extended its electronic tourist visa to six new countries, bringing the total to 63 nations.

The latest additions to the scheme are Turkiye, Thailand, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, and Mauritius. Visa holders will be allowed to visit Saudi Arabia for tourism, Umrah outside of the Hajj season, trips to see family, and various events.

The latest move is another step toward supporting Vision 2030 goals of boosting tourism’s gross domestic product contribution and creating 1 million jobs, as part of efforts to diversify the Kingdom’s economy.

The ministry introduced the e-visa in 2019, offering tourists the chance to explore Saudi Arabia’s attractions, cultural experiences, and events. In 2022, the country welcomed 94 million visitors, a 93 percent rise on 2021 figures, with a total tourism spend of $49 billion.

According to the ministry, the Kingdom was well on track to achieving its goal of 100 million visits by 2030 — with new targets currently being set.

The plan is for the tourism sector to contribute 10 percent toward the country’s GDP by 2030. Currently, travel and tourism account for 4.5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, marking an increase from three percent in 2019.

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