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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Is this Bali? No, it's Saudi Arabia: new video highlights the kingdom's diverse terrain

The kingdom's ambitious new tourism campaign showcases various locations across Saudi Arabia, and hints that tourist visas could be coming soon

Could Saudi Arabia be set to introduce tourism visas in the coming days? If you were to go off a slick new tourism video for the kingdom currently doing the rounds on social media, it would certainly seem so.

The kingdom's ambitious new campaign showcases various locations across Saudi Arabia, likening them to more famed destinations around the world: Al Ula looks like Petra in Jordan, the desert of Tabuk looks like Utah and the Red Sea looks the like the Caribbean.

These green terraces are in Saudi Arabia, likely in Abha or Asir, not in Bali.

Clips show parts of Saudi Arabia that look like the lush rice terraces of Bali, the snowy plains of Siberia and the craggy, green mountains of Switzerland.

"Be the first to visit an exciting, new destination. Get ready to see the unseen," the campaign says. It also features a countdown clock, which at the time of writing, had 12 days and 13 hours remaining – suggesting tourism visas will start from next weekend, around Friday, September 27.

Talk about the imminent release of tourist visas has reached fever pitch recently, after they were first announced in 2017.

It sometimes snows in Saudi Arabia, leading to scenes like this in the mountain ranges in the northwest of the country

Previously, most visitors to Saudi Arabia were Muslims visiting to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, or those on business trips. Tourist visas were only issued on an intermittent basis, and only for select group tours. It was particularly difficult for single women to visit the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia first unveiled its plans to welcome tourists to the kingdom in December 2017, but in the years since, there had been little news – until recently.

Saudi also offers diving experiences in the Red Sea with tropical marine life.

Late last week, the head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ahmad Al Khatib, said Saudi Arabia would open its doors to international tourists before the end of this year.

Mr Al Khatib made the announcement during a meeting of the World Tourism Organisation in Russia.

It expands on the initial announcement in 2017, when Prince Sultan bin Salman said "all government approvals" were in place for the launch of electronic visas to "all nationals whose countries allow their citizens to visit" Saudi Arabia.

This is not in Italy but in Saudi: villages in Abha, like Habala, are particularly picturesque

The proposal to issue the visas was then outlined in a report for the Arabian Travel Market 2018.

It highlighted the kingdom's target of 30 million visitors annually by 2030, and announced its intent to allow women older than 24 to visit the country without a male guardian.

Female tourists below that age will still need to be accompanied by a family member.

The kingdom announced several leisure projects in 2018, including a Six Flags-style theme park in Riyadh to be built by 2021. The theme park is set to have many record-breaking rides – including the world's fastest roller coaster.

A much-publicised Red Sea Project was also set to boost the luxury tourism market in Saudi, and is being marketed as an "equivalent to the Maldives".

Located between the coastal cities of Umluj and Al Wajh, the project is being built in a region spanning 30,000 square kilometres and will comprise a natural archipelago of pristine islands and a vast desert landscape filled with mountain peaks, historical and archaeological treasures and a dormant volcano. The project will be the first fully integrated, luxury, mixed-use resort in the Middle East and is expected to attract visitors all year round. It has been designed with a strong focus on heritage, culture and conservation and will provide 8,000 new hotel rooms once completed.

These craters look remarkably like those in Indonesia, but are actually in KSA

Check out our pick of the top ten tourist sites in Saudi Arabia below:

Updated: September 16, 2019 11:57 AM