Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to Open Red Sea Tourist Resorts

Bob Koigi

This luxury destination with 125 miles of beaches and 50 reef-fringed islands will be bigger than Belgium and may allow visa-free travel.

On Saudi Arabia’s idyllic west coast lies 125 miles of pristine beaches and 50 reef-fringed islands that, until now, have been veiled from the rest of the world. In a first-of-its-kind development, the Public Investment Fund is set to transform this Red Sea coastline into a semi-autonomous, visa-free global tourist destination fully equipped with hotels and luxury residences.

Red Sea Project

With its dwindling oil fortunes, the ultra-conservative country, which has traditionally relied on Muslim pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Mecca and Medina for its tourism revenue, is attempting to expand its reach to attract international visitors from around the world to the new resorts.

The Red Sea project will occupy a space larger than Belgium, between the cities of Amluj and Al-Jawh, an area that enjoys year-round mild weather with summer temperatures averaging around 88°Fahrenheit. In an attempt to ease access, Saudi Arabia is considering waiving requirements for tourist visas to the resorts, or if visas are still required, making them easily obtainable online—even as restrictions on the rest of the country to international travelers persist.

The resorts are positioned to be “governed by laws on par with international standards,” which opens up the possibility of raising the ban on alcohol. It could also mean allowing women to wear bikinis, a big departure from the strict social norms that currently require women to cover themselves from head to toe. This appears to be an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, PIF chairman, to modernize Saudi Arabia, while striking a balance between its cultural and religious dogmas.

Aside from the incredible beaches, the list of attractions international tourists to the area will be able to experience includes natural wonders such as dormant volcanoes and a reserve that is home to rare wildlife such as falcons and leopards. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see the ancient ruins of Mada’in Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Red Sea Project

The Red Sea is already famed for having some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, making it highly sought after dive sites in the world. Now, with the Red Sea project, tourists will also have access to extreme sports, including trekking, parachuting and climbing.

Phase one of the project takes off in 2019 and will cover luxury hotels and residential units coupled with a new airport and sea transport hub with a completion timeline of 2022. The project aims to attract up to 1 million visitors every year by 2035, with the number of visitors monitored and capped to preserve the delicate ecosystem.

Ultimately, these pristine beaches are set to provide sunny days for a country that is betting on the Red Sea project to add $4 billion to the Kingdom’s coffers while employing about 35,000 residents.  ■

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© | 2019