In a major move to boost tourism and enhance quality of life in the country, Saudi Arabia will now allow shops and businesses to operate 24/7, starting Wednesday, 1st January. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Ministry of Interior which announced this decision, will permit commercial establishments to function round-the-clock provided they install cameras inside their stores and obtain a licence not exceeding SAR 100,000 ($27,000) for this purpose.
While the country aims to reduce the unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% by expanding the scope of young people to work, supporting entrepreneurs, establishing large enterprises and enhancing the role of the private sector, the decision is expected to create new job opportunities for citizens. The new rule follows on the back of another rule introduced earlier, where some shops and commercial establishments in Riyadh were allowed to remain open all day, sparking debates about whether this included prayer times or not. The move was seen as a major departure from norm for the conservative kingdom, where restaurants, cafes, gas stations, and even hospitals used to shut down a few times every day, during prayers. In fact, in recent months, the Kingdom has considerably eased the strict social rules that have been in effect for years, in an attempt to attract investments and encourage greater business opportunities.
As part of its goal of attracting 100 million visitors a year by 2030, the country opened its doors to international tourists in 2019 by relaxing visa norms, which previously allowed only businessmen, expatriate workers, and religious pilgrims to enter the country. Saudi has also begun issuing temporary visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events to promote tourism.
The liberalization drive has brought movies, entertainment events, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia. The government, hit hard by low oil prices, hopes tourism will contribute up to 10% of the gross domestic product by 2030, compared with 3% currently. In 2017, the country announced a multibillion-dollar project to turn 50 islands and other sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.