By Michael Amon and Summer Said
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Officials in Saudi Arabia are working to loosen tourism restrictions this year for foreign visitors including Americans, people involved in the effort said, easing travel to help diversify the oil-dependent economy of the cloistered kingdom.
Saudi officials plan to allow citizens of the U.S., much of Europe, Japan and China either visa-free access to the kingdom for tourism or a visa on arrival by the end of this year, the people said. The effort is meant to make visiting Saudi Arabia about as easy as traveling to neighboring Arab tourist hot spots such as Dubai.
The move would mark progress in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to liberalize the economy and, amid a push by Saudi Arabia to improve its international image, help the kingdom shed a reputation as difficult to visit. Prince Mohammed has authorized the effort, according to the people familiar with it.
Saudi Arabia has long hosted millions of Muslim pilgrims journeying to Mecca and Medina, an important source of income for the Saudi government, but has no broad system for nonreligious tourists other than citizens of its Persian Gulf neighbors.
The tourism plans have accelerated during a soft period for the Saudi economy, which is experiencing deflation and depressed corporate earnings from new taxes, subsidy cuts and an exodus of low-cost foreign workers.
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