RELIGION

AP INTERVIEW: Saudi prince unveils plans to welcome tourists

  • Prince Sultan bin Salman talks to a Associated Press reporter at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016.  A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil.  (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

    Prince Sultan bin Salman talks to a Associated Press reporter at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)  (The Associated Press)

  • Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, receives a gift while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016.  A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil.  (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

    Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, receives a gift while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)  (The Associated Press)

  • Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, talks to an official while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016.  A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil.  (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

    Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, talks to an official while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. A day after Saudi Arabia outlined sweeping reform plans, the top prince spelled out for the first time in an AP interview how the kingdom aims to make tourism an important element of its shift toward less reliance on oil. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)  (The Associated Press)

Saudi Arabia will begin issuing select tourist visas soon to welcome tens of thousands of foreigners a year, part of a sweeping national reform plan.

The religiously conservative country currently does not issue tourist visas, though it ran a pilot program between 2006 and 2010 welcoming around 25,000 visitors annually to see Saudi Arabia's ancient archaeological sites and vast landscapes of mountains, coastline, valleys, volcanoes and deserts.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, the head of Saudi Arabia's tourism authority, Prince Sultan bin Salman, says easing visa restrictions on pilgrims and other foreigners would showcase Saudi Arabia's rich, even pre-Islamic history.

He says that promoting tourism among Saudis would encourage them to explore the country's heritage and help forge a stronger national identity.