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Anyone fancy a trip to Saudi Arabia?

Anyone fancy a trip to Saudi Arabia?

A highly sophisticated PR campaign will be required if the Kingdom is to achieve its ambitious targets on tourism.

March 24, 2010 4:28 by

Saudi Arabia has set some ambitious – some would say, too ambitious – targets for its tourism industry.

According to a report in Arab News, the Kingdom is seeking to lure 11.4 million foreign tourists every year, a four percent increase on the current number.

The vast majority of visitors to Saudi are religious pilgrims and businessmen (and they are mostly men). But KSA authorities want to boost the number of sightseers, too.

Tough job. Your average non-Muslim tourist perceives Saudi as a place of severe restrictions, full of violent ‘religious police’ and rubber-glove-wearing border guards. No place for a holiday, then.

Of course, this is more than just a ‘perception’. Saudi is not an open society, and its strict interpretation of Islam means that many visitors face a massive culture shock, given that they are not allowed to carry out their daily business in the way they are used to, to put it mildly.

Entry visas to are notoriously tough to obtain; visitors face strict searches and (according to one of Kipp’s readers) frequent racism by airport border guards.

But KSA has a lot going for it. There is the awe-inspiring desert landscape, the relatively cosmopolitan port of Jeddah, the historical sites, and the diving in the Red Sea (which compares favorably to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, which as Kipp’s colleague asserts, has “more divers than fish”).
The Kingdom will need an army of PR pros on board to boost its reputation among global non-Muslim travelers. But it may just be worth it.

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  1. H.N.M. on March 25, 2010 7:01 am

    It’s not as bad as you think.

    I’m a Lebanese, who frequently travels to the Kingdom (Riyadh and Jeddah) on business. I’m not sure about the airport guard racism- I usually get a friendly/humorous welcome from the guards who greet me by imitating a Lebanese accent after they see my passport.

    I’d like to say something here, as a tourist to foreign countries – the basic rule is this: If you go out there not looking for trouble, then you won’t get yourself in a situation.

    As with any country, Saudi Arabia requires a little homework and some research before visiting. Yes it’s different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s difficult, or “evil” or whatever.

    Yes, you may read some bizarre stories about the crimes that happen there – as if such crimes don’t occur in the “civilized” western nations.

    I would advise the non-Muslim traveller to Saudi, to just learn about basic Islam, read up on what is and what is not permissible behavior, and not to take any kinds of risks or try to be adventurous at the wrong place/wrong time.

    Hope that helps.

  2. naji on March 25, 2010 8:04 am

    i am a lebanese too who lived in jeddah for like 5 years.
    i must say that jeddah is a lovely place to live and visit. in 5 years, i did not have any issues and now i look back to those days with real warm feelings.

  3. OFiroz on March 25, 2010 9:17 am

    I don’t think Saudi Arabia is a tourist friendly country by any meaning! It is restricted, and fundamentalists are every where, even Government behave the same way. You can’t find a tourist in any part of Saudi. It is not that westerners are thinking this country is bad for tourism, actually they are!
    By the way, do they need tourism? Saudi is a holy place for billions of Muslims all around the world, do they need to tarnish this image? And this is one country where most number of the people are visiting every year though not as tourist.

  4. Ahmad on March 25, 2010 12:21 pm

    You are making the all too common mistake of assuming your own situation reflects that of everyone else’s.
    I spent 3 years in the USA after 9-11 and didnt face any racism. Do you know how stupid it will sound if I say that this proves that no Arab/muslim faced problems in the USA after 9-11?

  5. Saeed Omar on March 25, 2010 1:52 pm

    it is as bad as it is.
    the saudi employment visa is the worst anyone can make. pls feel free to share my miserable story at my blog. its been 40 days to issue one from here in Amman, Jordan, and when the Consulate finally gives it and i travel to Dammam airport i find out that they have blacklisted me!!
    i crash at the airport transit area for a day before they send me back home… very very bad experience… and someone somewhere have to make it easy and more humane for ppl to travel to Saudi.

  6. C. Rush on March 29, 2010 4:51 am

    I lived 10 years in Saudi and enjoyed my stay. Bringing up children in Saudi is a blessing, but that’s about all what Saudi has to offer. Segregated swimming pools, restaurants, no driving for women…I just name a few….this will any tourist scare away….there is no freedom, let alone the 5x prayper closures of any shops and malls. How can a female walk around freely? Impossible. Show a slight fleshy part of your ankles and the Metawas (religious police) are after you with a cane. Be realistic, what kind of tourists do you want to attract?? surely not NON BELIEVERS!!!

  7. Zaki Siddiqui on April 5, 2010 9:14 am

    Even as a muslim one cannot take his family as a buisness trip as woman are not allowed to take a visit or a buisness visa even if we have the same company in Saudi and UAE. We were not allowed to take our family but were told to take an Umra visa. We have lived in Saudi for more than 4 decades with Saudi residence visa and now we have a company and I am a partner in the same company. We cancelled our visa few years abck as not needed. Saudisation programm is so tough taht one cannot take a new residence visa.

  8. Charl on April 15, 2010 8:13 am

    I am a female European U.A.E. resident and have travelled to Saudi Arabia on business four times in two years. Often I am in a group with other females and we have been treated with nothing but respect. Saudis and non-Saudis, male and female have always given us a warm welcome and treated us with warm hospitality. I have also travelled alone to Riyadh and found that locals, hotel staff and even taxi drivers have been very protective and helpful, I never felt uncomfortable.

    As in any country you should respect the rules and regulations, if you do this in Saudi Arabia my experience is that there is nothing to worry about.

    I can especially recommend the beautiful old town in Jeddah including the Souk (with very good prices!!). A touch of “real old Arabia”!


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