Saudi Arabia unveils plans to draw tourists to Red Sea beaches
Dubai, UAE - Saudi Arabia wants to turn hundreds of kilometres of its Red Sea coastline into a global tourism destination governed by laws ‘on par with international standards’ as part of its plan to transform the economy and reduce its reliance on oil.
The project will cover 50 islands and 34,000sqkm - an area bigger than Belgium -- between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh to attract ‘luxury travellers from around the globe’, according to an official statement sent to Bloomberg on Tuesday. It will be developed by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, with the first work expected in two years.
Bringing Sun-seekers to Saudi beaches could transform a tourism industry that relies almost solely on pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. But while the announcement emphasised the economic benefits, past mega-projects to diversify the economy have struggled to get off the ground, and questions are likely to be raised over how acceptable the plan is to the kingdom’s influential religious establishment.
Tourists will either not require a visa or will be able to obtain one online. One of the documents referred to the project as a ‘semi-autonomous’ area governed ‘by independent laws and a regulatory framework developed and managed by a private committee’, a sign that it could ease strict rules applied elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.
The proposal is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s blueprint to prepare the biggest Arab economy for the post-oil era.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia