Tourism in Saudi Arabia – the new big thing?

Yes, I think so! (once Covid is a distant, bad memory).

I just read a recent article in CNN about all of the incredible changes that Saudi Arabia has undergone in the past couple of years since the new Crown Prince came into power. One of the main pictures in the article itself is interesting, with two attractive women chatting alone at a coffee shop, their long hair perfect and flowing (and showing). https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/saudi-arabia-fun-tourists/index.html

I don’t think this article would have struck me so much if I hadn’t visited Saudi Arabia a few times last year for work. I mentioned in an earlier post in which I asked if Saudi Arabia is the new Spain how you could see how the country was undergoing changes by the day – contacts there were telling me it was even hard to know what the rules were as things were changing by the day (actually this is the same way I feel right now with all the Covid restrictions…). When I first visited (September 11, 2019) I covered my head and was nervous to look at people in the eyes (see post here). By the third trip I felt more confident and comfortable, even visiting a large outdoor mall by myself in the evening without a head scarf (this was after talking with local contacts and assuring myself that this would be fine). Some trip pictures:

I remember having conversations with companies in 2018/2019 before traveling to KSA and listening to Saudi Arabians tell me about all the international tourism plans, infrastructures being built, etc, all part of their Strategy 2030. Inside I was thinking, “Really?!”

Now Saudi Arabia wants to be a top international tourist destination, but is this possible? I think there is still a long way to go, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years time it is. Just the pictures alone of the Red Sea resorts, snorkelling, amazing desert landscapes – it certainly has a lot to offer. First, however, the country will have to be very clear and open about its acceptance of all kinds of people and rights for women. They will have to make tourists feel welcome and willing to travel there. Second, they better fix their visa process! The last time I visited there was a new tourist visa upon arrival that had just began (not for me as I was traveling for business). Considering the extremely complicated (and expensive) process of applying for a business visa, I would hope the tourist visa will be much more agile and less expensive.

I would be willing to try it out for sure. Once travel resumes again (in general) and for work, if I have the opportunity to travel back there I would definitely take the opportunity to be a KSA tourist if possible, before travel exploitation begins.

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