In the shadow of the first anniversary of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and amid escalating tensions in neighbouring Yemen, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to tourism for the first time.
Vast wealth and the promise of dramatic change make for cautious optimism concerning Saudi Arabia, the chief executive…48 Views | the publication reaches you by | Saudi Arabia Today
Now, however, the obstacle of the visa has been removed, after Saudi announced its new tourism scheme in September. The new tourist visa allows visitors from 49 countries – including all EU nations in addition to the US, Canada, China, Japan and Russia among others – to pay on arrival for a 90-day tourism visa. It comes at a cost of 440 SAR plus VAT, equivalent to £92/€106/$119.
Much of Saudi Arabia was underwater millions of years ago, and it shows in the landscape with rocks jutting out across the desert, forming what used to be shelves and coral reefs. Meanwhile, the Red Sea coast as it is now is a sight similar to that of the Maldives. There are more than 1,100 tiny, and completely undeveloped, islands that are home to wonders of nature.
But for Westerners to uncover the sights and sounds of Saudi, they’d have to be convinced that either their negative perceptions have been exaggerated or that the country has changed. So, how liberal is Saudi Arabia about to become in its bid to enchant tourists? And at what cost?
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is said to be behind the drive for Saudi to ditch its reliance on oil, and move towards other forms of income. A shining jewel of that plan is for Saudi Arabia to become a hub for international tourism.
It has experience of tourism as the site of the world’s largest pilgrimage site at Mecca, seeing nearly 1.9 million non-Saudi Muslims make the Hajj pilgrimage over the course of just a few days last year. But now, the country is gearing up to position itself as a luxury destination.
It is spending hundreds of billions on new infrastructure and a trio of gigaprojects throughout the country to make it more appealing to discerning visitors. These audacious plans include building Saudi Arabia’s first ski slope inside Riyadh’s upcoming Mall Of Arabia shopping centre, and creating the Neom super city on Saudi’s Red Sea coast.
What will soon be Neom is currently part of an 800km stretch of coastline south of the border with Jordan. As it stands, it doesn’t yet feature a single five-star hotel or resort.
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