In the past, Saudi Arabia did not advertise itself for tourism. On the contrary, it’s known for its extreme conservatism and seclusion. Up until a short time ago, it was virtually impossible for outsiders to visit Saudi Arabia for other than business reasons. There is no such thing as a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia. The closest thing you can get is a business visa and you have to have a letter from a company here in Saudi Arabia vouching that you are coming for a legitimate business reason. However, lack of advertisement has not influenced the prosperity of the Saudi tourism industry. Over Two and a half million people visit Makkah annually to perform Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage. Hajj is the largest pilgrimage world-wide of its kind.
Recently the Saudi government has decided to enhance its tourism industry by opening its doors year-round to non-Muslim tourists. For that reason, the General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities was established. There is no shortage of attractions to entice would-be travelers into setting their sights here.
Snorkeling in the most beautiful sea in the world, the Red Sea is just one of the possible things they can do. And maybe take a piece of coral as a souvenir. Or they can visit one of our ancient cities, such as Madin Saleh, which was founded before Christianity. These cities are huge pieces of art carved into the mountains. These sites are hard to get to for outsiders and regular Saudis. It is easy for expatriates and upper class Saudis to go see Madin Saleh. Due to a fatwa stating that visiting this archaeological site is discouraged in Islam, regular Saudis aren’t allowed in as easily or openly.
Prospective tourists can also join in our most popular past-time, shopping. We have all kinds of stores and shops no matter what your preference is. They can shop at one of our many modern malls or at Riyadh’s old downtown souk, Batha, where they can bargain down the prices to their heart’s content. They can take their time shopping, as hardly any shop closes before eleven at night.
Just having the experience of living in Saudi Arabia and observing the local customs in itself is fascinating. Nowhere else in the world are women, by law, not allowed to drive. And by law have to cover themselves with a light black cloak. Five prayers are practiced publicly every day. Almost every two streets you’ll come across a mosque with a live-in sheikh who announces the prayer times on a microphone. So that all businesses close temporarily while Muslims prepare for prayer.
There have been organized and restricted tours to Saudi Arabia but nothing flexible and definitely no solo cheap adventurer kind of stuff that young college kids go for. You can join a tour for about 7500 dollars. For details click here
Saudi Arabia has always had a cloud of mystery and secrecy about it. However, as soon as the government opens its doors to year round tourism that cloud of mystery will rapidly disperse.
3 responses to “Tourism in Saudi Arabia”
Great post! I was in the travel business for many years, plus having been with my Saudi husband for over 30 years, people would always be so shocked to learn that they couldn’t just pick up and go to Saudi Arabia for a vacation if they wished. Hopefully these early ventures in opening up the country to tourism will be such a great success and prove so positive for Arabia’s image that it will further open the door to more visitors.
After I wrote it I wanted to link to your post about Madin Saleh but I couldn’t find it.
That’s cuz I didn’t write it… American Bedu did. She did a whole series a couple weeks ago – great stuff!