Saudi Arabia's plan to boost tourist numbers pays off in first month

Tombs at Madain Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site, near Saudi Arabia's northwestern town of al-Ula

After launching tourist visas for travelers from countries like the US, Singapore, South Korea and the UK for the first time in September, Saudi Arabian officials say they processed 77,000 applications in the first month. 

In a move aimed at boosting its tourism industry and adding diversity to its oil economy, the kingdom announced new visa rules for citizens of 49 countries earlier this fall. 

The new e-visas are good for one year. Previously, travel to the ultra-conservative country had been largely restricted to religious pilgrims and business travelers. 

At the global travel show World Travel Market London this week, a government official said that within a month of launching the new e-visa regime September 27, the country received 77,000 applications, reports trade publication Breaking Travel News

To accommodate secular visitors, the country is relaxing dress codes for women and allowing unmarried foreign couples to rent rooms together. 

Under the country's Vision 2030 program, Saudi Arabia is hoping to bring in 100 million visitors to the country a year by 2030.