Visitors can obtain a tourist visa to Saudi Arabia within three minutes after purchasing an online ticket to the Jeddah Season festival, organisers of the 40-day long event have said. This online visa process aims to boost tourism to Saudi Arabia as part of the kingdom's recent social and economic reforms.
The cultural festival, which began on Saturday and will run until 18 July, is taking place in the port city of Jeddah and offers a wide range of activities including concerts, art displays, pop-up Michelin-starred restaurants and parades.
Many renowned Arab singers are set to perform, with Emirati singer Ahlam launching the festival on Saturday, followed the next day by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and Egyptian pop artist Amr Diab on Monday. Lebanese star Nancy Ajram will make her Saudi debut tomorrow, she announced via Instagram on Saturday.
Jeddah Season is a national initiative to promote tourism, as a part of the Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman's plan to diversify the economy, entitled Vision 2030. This reform plan aims to reduce the kingdom's oil dependency and to expand its industries. The lynchpin of MBS' plan is the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a $300 billion sovereign wealth fund tasked with developing projects, which has been accused of "squandering state money" and described as the "personal tool of Prince Mohammed that is crowding out the private sector".
The festival is one of the recent moves to "open up Saudi Arabia" through developing its entertainment sector. Last year, the kingdom ended its more than three-decade-long ban on cinemas and began to open up more cinemas, in an agreement with AMC Entertainment Holdings. Two weeks ago, a Saudi animation company owned by the crown prince announced the launch of its first feature-length film, "with a goal to present the ancient civilizations of the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East, in an attractive, high-end, and commercial form of animation that is universally enjoyed by children and families of all generations."