Saudi Arabia seeks a place on tourist map with ambitious foreign visitor push

Saudi Arabia
  • Date: 01-Feb-2023
  • Source: Financial Times
  • Sector:Tourism
  • Country:Saudi Arabia
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Saudi Arabia seeks a place on tourist map with ambitious foreign visitor push

For centuries, Muslims believed the rock-cut tombs of Hegra were the ruins of an ancient civilisation cursed by God for its hubris. Unless they bowed their heads and wept, tradition said, visitors might meet the same fate.

The Unesco site, and nearby AlUla, where visitors can stay in luxury chalets nestled between the cliffs, are among the crown jewels of an ambitious project to turn the kingdom better known for oil and its strict adherence to conservative Islam into a tourist and entertainment hub.

Saudi Arabia wants to lure 100mn visitors annually by the end of the decade. It already welcomes millions of people to the Muslim pilgrim sites of Mecca and Medina, and saw a surge in domestic tourism during the pandemic, when those who typically travelled abroad spent their vacations at home.

But the country has never been on the list of traditional tourism destinations. And despite its ambitions, questions remain about whether the deeply conservative kingdom, where alcohol is forbidden and unmarried couples theoretically face prosecution, can compete with the party vibe of Dubai or the mix of beaches and history found in Egypt.

“Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions have a lot to work with, but there’s still a lot of work

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