LORI DEMIRJIAN WRITES- For the first time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is allowing 49 countries, including the US, entry for non-religious tourism purposes with the use of a new e-Visa program. In the past, Saudi Arabia only issued visas for religious pilgrimage and business purposes.
This reform is one of the strategies for Saudi Arabia’s new economic plan instituted by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in order to stray away from the country’s dependence on oil. According to the Managing Director of Colliers International KSA, Imad Damrah, “All levels of the tourism ecosystem will be developed, leading to job creations at multiple levels; whether directly employed in the tourism field or indirectly as a related business.”
Now, before you book your flight and “yalla” to the beaches of the Red Sea, it is important to recognize and respect the religion and the culture of the country. Saudi Arabia has laws specifically aimed at tourists pertaining to dress code, public behavior, religion and alcohol.
According to Saudi Arabia’s tourism site, both men and women are required to dress “modestly”, in particular women are required to cover their shoulders and knees in public, although wearing an Abaya ( a loose, robe-like dress worn by women in some parts of the Muslim world) is not a requirement. Moreover, alcohol and drugs are prohibited in the country and Mecca is still off-limits for non-Muslims.
Saudi Arabia’s tourism chief, Ahmad al-Khateeb, explained that “opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country. Visitors will be surprised … by the treasures we have to share – five Unesco world heritage sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.” Hopefully, this new venture that Saudi Arabia is embarking on will lead to an enlightened experience for both Saudi Arabian citizens and international tourists across the globe.