The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rapidly changing. In a bid to increase foreign visitors, you’ll soon be able to obtain a tourist visa to one of the more isolated nations in the world.
If I can generally summarize all that has been going on in Kingdom lately, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has strengthened his power base by stifling dissent while at the same time increasing civil liberties. Women will soon be able to drive, we may see an end to gender-segregated restaurants, and now tourist visas are coming in 2018…Saudia Arabia does not even issue transit visas right now.
> Read More: How to Obtain a Saudi Arabian Transit Visa
There is a lot more to the issue and this blog post is not the right place for it, but I encourage you to familiarize yourself with what is going on. I do find it mildly amusing that the many political prisoners are being held up at the five-star Ritz Carlton Riyadh. But forced confessions and extortion are serious matters…
Tourism in KSA?
But on the issue of tourism, you might ask…what is there to see?
There’s Mecca, of course. But if you’re not Muslim, you are legally prohibited from visiting. In fact, every person entering the city limits of Mecca is strictly checked. I doubt that will change, though I’d love to visit.
I’ve been to Jeddah and wrote about it here. I’ve even reviewed the Park Hyatt Jeddah.
> Read More: Pictures from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
> Read More: Park Hyatt Jeddah Review
It’s interesting, but if I’m being honest…hardly worth a special visit. I’ve only been through the airport in Riyadh so I cannot comment on that city, though Rapid Travel Chai has checked it out.
Nevertheless, Prince Sultan bin Salman told CNN’s Richard Quest that Saudi Arabia wants to double the number of tourists over the next decade. To accomplish this, it will invest in new seaside luxury resorts and create a city that will “rival” Las Vegas. There are even reports that Sir Richard Branson is ready to invest in the Kingdom.
This is more than just an oil-rich nation looking for the next big investment. The news in Saudi Arabia is nothing short of revolutionary. I enjoyed my time in Saudi Arabia and would certainly return should tourist visas be issued, especially after such a delightful flight in Saudia First Class. Would you consider a visit to Saudi Arabia?
> Read More: Saudia 777-300ER First Class Jeddah to Los Angeles Review
Best idea would be to build a bunch of relatively cheap Starwood properties along the same street in a Red Sea resort, so you could hop from one to the other every day. A useful way of trying to hold on to coveted SPG Platinum status!
Seriously, I was actually thinking of hitting Sharm/Dahab in Egypt for similar reasons, but what’s going in the Sinai right now scares the bejesus out of me.
I would not visit for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, I have cousins who lived there as kids for a while when their father was in the oil industry. My wife’s friend also lived and worked there for several months to open (I think) a Bath & Body Works. His time there was more recent and he had no problems.
I was a tourist in Saudi before it was cool. Saudi Arabia has an amazing natural environment that up to now really hasn’t been abused – its’ almost virgin (especially underwater). There is no real native fishery on the Red Sea or a cultural-affinity for going out on the water: which has served to protect the Saudi reefs. The only local competition is Dhahab in Egypt and other points on the Sinai, which is okay – but years of boats anchoring on coral and no-enforced restrictions on coral harvesting by tourists has hurt the reef a bit. I’m sure there’s other things Egypt-side coral suffers from, but whatever the cause, it was not as breathtaking as the Saudi-side. Additionally, while the Great Barrier Reef may be suffering from coral-bleaching, the Red Sea coral is less susceptible, and I imagine will be a better destination if not already, then in the near future. The best snorkeling and diving of my life was in the Red Sea, it really is amazing. The fishing (shore-casting, dropping lines off a reef wall, hand lines off a boat) is also fantastic.
There’s also the Empty Quarter, Mada’in Salah (similar Nabatean monuments as Petra, though less grand in scale), fantastic rappelling off the escarpments, falconing/hawking, etc. I could easily fill two weeks with adventure tourism and make it the trip of most people’s lifetimes.
I hope that the government takes steps to protect these natural resources if they are indeed opening the country to tourists.
There are few places I wouldn’t visit given the opportunity. Most of those are for safety reasons (e.g., Yemen; Somalia), but a at least one is for personal/political reasons (Russia, even before the 2016 election; Myanmar, due to the current ethnic cleansing). Saudi should fall into the latter group since I believe it is one of the most corrupt and (geopolitically) dangerous countries in the world, but I probably would travel there. In fact, I have a stash of Delta miles that are kind of set aside for Saudia since there aren’t any better uses I can find for them.
No way! They execute people for being gay. Not worth the risk. I would never put myself in jeopardy in a country that kills people who are LGBT.
Bryan, a friend of mine used to work for a construction company that was building a road in Iraq during the Saddam era. He’s straight, but he had an openly gay colleague and the latter kept saying, “I’m in heaven!” This may sound strange, but remember that Arab society is basically all-male. Women are meant only for reproduction and for taking care of the children and the household, nothing more. Men basically only have contact with other men all the time.
So, it inevitably happens. They’re discreet and the issue is never openly discussed, but it’s sort of an open secret. If Rashid locks himself with Yusuf in a room for a couple of hours to “discuss business”, nobody says anything, and if strange noises are heard, they’re just overenthusiastic about their business… In Afghanistan, it’s even a sign of wealth and social status for well-off men to flaunt their young male lovers. That would be considered slave trade, prostitution and pedophilia all at once in the West, but it’s socially acceptable there. And Afghanistan in theory also punishes homosexuality with death.
The West and its righteous so-called “Christians” don’t have a monopoly on hypocrisy. And Saudi Arabia isn’t the only place that represses homosexuality. For example, even though in theory homosexuality is legal in Jamaica, it’s one of the world’s worst places for LGBTs. The government won’t execute you, but people themselves might.
I think Saudi Arabia would be quite interesting to visit, I would probably visit Riydah first. I read your post on your trip to Jeddah and was surprised by the amount of American chains. I think Saudi Arabia is looking to steal away business from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha and realizes the only way they can do that is to open up to the world more.
I certainly agree with you. I just wonder if they are too late to the game.
I would, out of curiosity, because it’s an essential place if one wants to understand today’s geopolitics, and especially because it’s a very large country with lots of unexplored landscapes and sights. I’m definitely NOT interested in Riyadh or Jeddah with their skyscrapers and Kingdom Towers and McDonald’s. I can see all that or essentially the same elsewhere. I’m also not interested in prospective Hyatts and Sheratons and Four Seasons on the Red Sea.
But even the desert is different between parts of the country, there are mountains, there are wetter areas with greenery, agriculture and different cuisines. Outside the big cities, it’s an unspoilt Arabia that promises to be fascinating. Given the flamboyant and artificial Las Vegas-on-the-Gulf atmosphere of the UAE and Qatar, the modernist boredom of Kuwait and the risk of other places in the area, so far the closest you can get to that unspoiled Arabia is Oman, which by all accounts is a great place, but is just one aspect and one regional culture.
Hell No. Big sponsor of terrorism. There are other places to visit.
Such ethical concerns might trouble my conscience if I went to genocidal Myanmar or insane North Korea, poor countries whose corrupt and murderous dictatorial rulers would love my business, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, I think it would be preposterous, for two reasons.
First, they drown in a sea of petrodollars already, and whatever tourism they may get will be a drop in that ocean. And second, it’s not *exactly* the Saudi government itself that directly sponsors terrorism, it’s the powerful Wahhabis who are infiltrated, and the government turns a blind eye when they siphon the Kingdom’s petrodollars for Jihadist purposes.
So far, the government and the Wahhabis are like Siamese twins, but bin Salman clearly intends to have the separation surgery made. It will be a very risky and traumatic operation, he’s risking a coup d’état and his own head, and he knows it. He will be in a race against time to make and consolidate changes. And the best way of promoting modernization and curtailing the Wahhabis’ power is opening up the country.
So, being a tourist in the KSA and spending your dollars there is not aiding terrorism sponsors. It’s rather the opposite. That’s exactly what the real terrorism sponsors don’t want, what they fear, and the reason why the KSA is such a closed country so far.
I lived in Riyadh for over a year while working for my company. For a male, Riyadh is just fine. For females it can be a little harsher. You have to wear the abaya at all times when you are in public. You are pretty much a second class citizen. For couples, it’s similar to other Muslim countries where you don’t show PDA in public. There’s not much to do there, but I hear they are starting to loosen that. When I was living there, there were no movie theaters, no bars (no alcohol obviously) even in hotels, really nothing to do. The only place there was really anything to do was going to the mall. I’m not really into going to museums and such, so I don’t know if there is anything like that to really do. You also have to be aware that everything closes for 30min to 1 hour for prayer. That happens at least 4 times during the day, even restaurants stop service and the waiters disappear. Would I return to visit? No. I would return to work, but that’s because the money is good and no one wants to work there.
No, no, and no!
There are several countries on my personal boycott list due to political/human rights issues. The KSA is one of them. If bin Salman really is serious about reform, perhaps I’ll change my mind at some point in the future.
Your article really great as it focus on new aspect in Saudi Arabia country as most of us think its country only for religious event like Haij and nothing else interesting to do there but the fact that Saudi is one of interesting touristic country as its full of historical places, museum, beaches, festivals, malls and hotel . You encourage me to visit such great place as there are lots of things to do and lots of places to visit.
keep on am waiting your next blog
I am only wondering if I have to bring my own chainsaw to the consulate, or if they would provide their own equipment to handle my visa application, for applying for a tourist visa to this wonderful country living in the past? Sounds like a suicide mission for anyone not in sync with a prince worth 850 billion $…! How about we stop buying their oil and let them drink it instead!