Saudi Arabia: open for tourists | The Economist


Saudi Arabians call this place the edge of the world. This spectacular landscape can be found on the outskirts of Riyadh, the capital city. People like to come here
because it’s a very quiet area. Very fresh and clean air
far away from the city. Every time when I come here
I have the same feeling. The feeling of the god. By 2030, the edge of the world will be home to an
entertainment complex two and a half times the size of Disney World. In the past, Saudi
Arabia was not a holiday destination for international
leisure tourists. The country is governed
by strict Islamic laws. Women must cover up in
public, gender segregation is common, and alcohol is forbidden. This can be at odds with
what Western tourists look for when booking a holiday. But under the leadership
of Mohammad Bin Salman, the young crown prince,
the country is changing. Tourism is at the heart of his plans to revolutionize the kingdom. He is plowing billions of dollars from the country’s sovereign
wealth fund into building a new tourist resort in the Red Sea. The project will cover 50 islands and 34,000 square kilometers. An area bigger than Belgium. There are separate plans
for a futuristic eco city and special economic zones
stretching into Jordan and Egypt. The prince’s ambitious plan
aims to attract 30 million visitors by 2030, double
the current number. Raafat Shisha hopes more tourists will discover what the country has to offer. At his resort, guests can
enjoy dinner and admire the form and grace of these
purebred Arabian horses. This is pure Arabian horse. This horse is purely from Saudi
Arabia and from this area. Raafat’s usual guests are visiting dignitaries, business people
and wealthy Saudi families. But soon he could be welcoming
foreign leisure tourists too. Because the growth of the
tourism business, I’m targeting all nationalities, all the
people, and all the family. The crown prince wants
to diversify the economy which is heavily dependent on oil. Hydrocarbons account for over 80% of the kingdom’s government revenues. One way to diversify is
to entice more tourists. The vast majority of visitors at present are religious pilgrims to Mecca. 15 million people visit
the holy city each year. The annual hajj is the biggest gathering of Muslims in the world. If some of them can be
tempted to extend their stay and visit other sites,
that would boost tourism. Saudis going on holiday abroad spend around $25 billion annually. The prince wants them to spend
more of that money at home. Such ideas are inspired
by neighboring Dubai. It is now the third
biggest tourism city in the world attracting a global clientele and contributing 20% to the country’s GDP. They have relaxed many social rules and permit alcohol in resorts. You cannot compare
Dubai with Saudi Arabia. Dubai is a city with and 10 shopping malls, and 100 hotels. That’s it. In Saudi Arabia, we have the heritage. Saudi Arabia is the heart
of Arab and Islamic world. It is the hub connecting three continents. Visiting Saudi Arabia
is a unique experience. Many Western tourists may be put off by such restrictions. It is unclear how far
Mohammad Bin Salman will be willing to relax social norms
to attract Western tourists. Dress code is part of
the social environment here in Saudi Arabia. In terms of men and
females so Saudi Arabia try to emphasize tourists and communicate with them what’s proper for
them to wear when they come and visit Saudi Arabia. The crown prince has a vision. But investing billions of
dollars in luxury resorts is a gamble that might not pay off. Saudi Arabia will have to find a balance in appealing to religious
tourists, Saudis, and those from farther afield. Saudi Arabia is largely
untouched by tourism and is a mystery for many travelers. That alone is a reason to visit.

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