AP INTERVIEW: Saudi prince unveils plans to welcome tourists

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.