SAUDI Arabia wants your attention. The middle-eastern country wants to attract more western tourists and it’s willing to relax its strict laws to do so.
The ultraconservative Arab nation plans to build a “semi-autonomous” visa-free travel destination along its northwestern Red Sea coast, where restrictions on women’s dress, gender segregation and other conservative norms could be waived.
Already, it has opened its doors to more entertainment in order to generate more local spending and appease the country’s burgeoning youth population.
The Red Sea project is being headed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, who wants to lessen Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil exports for revenue and sees a major tourism push as the chance to do so, as a part of his Vision 2030 plan.
The core of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan is to diversify and modernise Saudi society and the economy. It also includes plans for keeping some of the Saudi money spent abroad each year in the country.
The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) said it will provide the seed capital to develop the tourist resort area, explaining that the new “semi-autonomous area will be governed by laws on par with international standards” and will “bring about the next generation of tourists”.
The resort area will incorporate popular holiday activities such as diving attractions, protected coral reefs, dormant volcanoes, and a nature reserve, with some areas resembling the luxury hotels, islands and lagoons of the Maldives.
Trips to Saudi Arabia’s ancient ruins of Mada’in Saleh, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site will also be a drawcard, along with parachuting, trekking and rock climbing.
The PIF is the main investor in a Six Flags theme park that is expected to be built in a new entertainment city that will be the first of its kind in the kingdom.
Currently, the majority of the country’s tourism revenue comes from the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which Saudi Arabia oversees.
It is estimated that The Red Sea project will generate 15 billion Saudi riyals ($5 billion) annually to Saudi Arabia’s economy and create 35,000 jobs.
The fund said the Red Sea project will be built along 125 miles (200 kilometres) of coastline and is tailored toward global luxury travellers and those seeking wellness travel.
However, as it stands the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) urges Aussies to reconsider their need to travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attacks.
“There has been a sharp increase in terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia over the past year. Attacks have targeted the Shia minority and members of Saudi Arabia’s security forces in particular,” the advice reads.
“Further attacks are likely, including the possibility of indiscriminate and opportunistic attacks against Westerners and venues frequented by Westerners. Large gatherings represent attractive targets for terrorists. Terrorist tactics could include bombings or smaller-scale attacks such as drive-by shooting and kidnapping.”
It also warns of political tensions in the area, particularly amid its diplomatic crisis with Qatar.
On 5 June, Saudi Arabia and six other countries cut relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism.
“The Government of Saudi Arabia has stated that it is an offence to display sympathy towards Qatar, or to object to the Saudi Government’s current policy in relation to Qatar. This includes social media or any other written or verbal form. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a large fine,” DFAT warns.