While Formula E's Middle East debut in Riyadh added a feather to Saudi Arabia's cap, what is even more significant is that this is the first time Saudi Arabia launched the visa service for visitors outside the scope of religious tourism through a portal named Sharek.
Even though this service was launched last month solely for the motoring event that saw about 1,000 tourists of about 80 nationalities descend on the Saudi capital, this could well have marked the much-anticipated formal launch of the tourist visa service by the government. This assertion was made by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud, Vice Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA) of Saudi Arabia that Formula E was a pilot project for the tourist-visa launch.
Visitors came from the United States, Europe, Russia, Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to witness Formula E, as well as how the Kingdom is shaping its future.
"This process was limited to the Formula E. Usually if you apply for a visa it will take some time to get it and you will have to do it through the embassy. We did it [the e-visa] hand in hand with the ministry of foreign affairs. We went from a very complicated process to a very simple one," Prince Abdulaziz said.
Visitor testimonies reaffirmed the prince's statement about the easy visa process. Chan, a visitor from Hong Kong, said: "Getting the visa was relatively simple. Log onto your computer and your visa pretty much comes up instantly."
For John, an American tourist, the experience was no different. "I must say I am impressed" he said about the visa process.
Clona, a Ukrainian living in Saudi Arabia, said her mother availed of the Sharek visa facility to come to Saudi Arabia. "It took less than 15 minutes for her to get the visa," she said. "It's a wonderful move by the Saudi authorities".
The three-day Saudia Ad Diriyah E Prix that started on December 13 is taking place against the backdrop of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that highlights the country's tangible heritage.
Commenting on the future plans to develop motorsport in the country Prince Abdulaziz said there were plans to build two more racetracks, one in Qiddiya which is being developed as an entertainment city about 30km from Riyadh, the other one is under construction in King Abdullah Economic City in Jeddah.
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