A glossy new TV commercial is encouraging tourists to visit Saudi Arabia. Is it time to put the country on your (post lockdown) travel bucket list?
You may have seen the glossy TV commercial – a captivating series of images, promising thrills, rich stories, amazing cuisine and a wonderful welcome. And the big reveal at the end? It is promoting international tourism to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been the largest tourist destination in the Middle East, although the majority of its 16 million visitors have been Hajj pilgrims. The country opened-up to mass tourism with the announcement of a 90-day tourist visa in September 2019 and is aiming for 100 million visitors by 2030, as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to diversify the economy of the oil-rich nation.
Visitors will have to abide by the country’s strict rules on alcohol and dress, but with its UNESCO heritage sights, stunning scenery and Red Sea beach resorts, Saudi clearly has much to offer, especially for travellers looking for something out of the ordinary. It will be interesting to see how the tourist influx impacts the country’s highly conservative social mores – for example, it is developing private beach resorts to allow traditional beach tourism (bikinis and all) to flourish in splendid isolation from the rest of the country.
Some potential visitors will have reservations about the country’s well-publicised human rights record, although such concerns do not appear to have dissuaded tourists from visiting China, Russia or other less politically-enlightened destinations.