Thousands of Saudis traveled outside the Kingdom on Monday nearly 16 months after flights were suspended over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Saudi nationals who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot a minimum two weeks prior to travel, those who have recovered from the coronavirus disease within the last six months, and those under 18 are allowed to travel for the first time since March 2020.
Authorities said on Sunday more than 11.5 million vaccines had been administered in the Kingdom so far.
Local reports said that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Indonesia, Georgia and Ukraine are the top destinations for Saudi travelers.
Hundreds of cars crowded roads linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Monday. The King Fahd Causeway, a 25-kilometer series of bridges closed in March last year, was packed with traffic as Saudi Arabia reopened its land, sea and air borders.
“It's a beautiful feeling after such a long absence from Bahrain,” said Mohammed, a Saudi travelling to the island nation.
The opening of borders will give a welcome boost to Bahrain's tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on its neighbor, the Arab world's biggest economy.
Travelers also flocked to Saudi Arabia's airports on Monday for flights abroad.
“We have been confined within Saudi for around a year and a half, so we can hardly believe the ban is lifted and we can see the world,” said Nawaf al-Askar, a Saudi heading from Riyadh to Bosnia and Herzegovina with his family.
Other travelers were leaving to resume their studies abroad or for long-delayed business trips.
Saudi citizens are still barred from direct or indirect travel to 13 countries, including tourism hotspots Turkey, Lebanon and India due to the threat of the pandemic, the interior ministry said Sunday.
Meanwhile, Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) Chief Executive Fahd Hamidaddin told Reuters the Kingdom would reopen to foreign tourists this year with an announcement expected to be made “very soon.”
The Kingdom announced late on Sunday that non-citizens arriving from certain countries and who were fully vaccinated against or recently recovered from COVID-19 would no longer be required to quarantine in designated government hotels.
Those new measures, however, only apply to residents, government and business travelers or those visiting friends and family but not foreign tourists, according to the STA.
Hamidaddin said the Kingdom was still targeting 100 million annual visits by 2030, up from about 40 million a year before the pandemic. It was also still targeting for tourism to account for 10% of GDP, up from 3%, by 2030, he said.
On Monday, the Health Ministry confirmed 886 new virus infections, taking the total to 433,980. It announced the recovery of 1,127 people, raising the number to 418,914. Twelve more people died from the virus, raising the toll to 7,174.