Saudi Arabia catches up in the tourism race

Saudi Arabia

Two camels trek across the desert. Source: Sebastien / Unsplash

EVER considered heading to Saudi Arabia on vacation?

Until very recently, the ultra-conservative country made it very difficult for most of the world to acquire an entry visa.

Even then, only a select few hotels were on offer and travelers had to book through certain agents, or else face denied entry.

But after witnessing the continued success of tourism in nearby Dubai and Bahrain, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced a push on the country’s tourism and leisure industry.

So far this year, Saudi Arabia has announced looser visa restrictions, opened the first public cinema in over 35 years and most recently, declared 25 new sites on the heritage list.

According to Saudi Press Agency, The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has given the go-ahead to naming 25 new archaeological sites across the Kingdom.

This is part of the Prince’s Vision 2030 plan to entice 30 million visitors in the next 12 years and move further away from depending on oil to fuel the economy.

What’s coming to the Kingdom?

The SCTH is responsible for overseeing and making decisions about developments in heritage sites around the kingdom.

However, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques program takes care of the cultural heritage of the kingdom.

In order for the program to carry on promoting the historical relics and sites of Saudi Arabia, the program has been granted SR5 billion (US$1.4 billion) by the SCTH.

The plans for the program include establishing 18 museums and creating 80 heritage sites.

The program will also be preparing villages for visitors and opening 17 centers for artisan entrepreneurs.

These centers aim to incubate and grow their businesses and contribute to the tourism industry.

As part of the tourism push, Saudi Arabia is also hiring domestic and returning overseas graduates who speak multiple languages.

Efforts to localize tourist jobs will create around 30,000 new jobs by the end of the year for Saudi Arabia and an extra 1.2 million by 2020, Eye of Dubai reported.

Why visit now?

Before the crowds surge in to see some of the world’s most coveted heritage sites, such as the Mada’in Saleh, now is a brilliant time to visit the newly liberalized nation.

Take time to explore the Mada’in Saleh, the largest conserved site of the Nabataean civilization south of Petra in Jordan.

Explore the old Al-Ula mudbrick town which dates back a few hundred years.

According to Lonely Planet, 800 families used to live here at one point and the remaining occupants lived in this mudbrick town up until the 1970s.

Take an excursion out across the world’s largest expanse of sand, the Rub’ al Khali, also known as The Empty Quarter.

If you want to take a break from history and archaeology, then head up the impressive Kingdom Tower to see stunning views of the nation’s capital.

These are just a few of Saudi Arabia’s outstanding manmade and natural attractions.

The kingdom is steeped in history, culture and rich architecture. But best of all, the Crown Prince himself is encouraging you to visit.

So, what are you waiting for?