The beautiful Kingdom


Although the Kingdom is not normally considered a holiday destination that might soon change as the country embarks on a bold plan to turn 50 Red Sea islands into luxury tourism resorts.

The Red Sea project will cover 34,000 square kilometers — an area bigger than Belgium — between the towns of Umluj and Al Wajh. Construction will begin in autumn 2019 and be completed by the end of 2022. The Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund will provide the initial funding before international bodies are invited to invest.

This new holiday zone, boasting the islands and beaches as well as dormant volcanoes, has a year-round average temperature of 30°C and is expected to draw up to one million tourists a year - a combined domestic and international total - by 2035. The site will include resorts, hotels, luxury apartments and an airport and seaport that will allow travelers easy access to scuba diving and rock climbing. The government is working on introducing tourist visas to make it easier for foreigners to visit. For the time being it will be aimed at Saudis and expats, but the other big objective in the future will be Western tourists.

Up to 35,000 jobs will be created by the project, which is eventually projected to generate SR15 billion a year to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product.

It’s the first major tourism project announced by Saudi Arabia since it launched Vision 2030 - a plan to diversify the country’s economy and help it rely not just on oil. Consequently, it plans to increase tourism spending to SR175 billion annually by 2020.

The Red Sea site is a mega-development project whose Twitter account already has more than 70,000 followers.

Saudi Arabia is actually one of the world’s most visited countries with 18 million visitors in 2016, most of whom came for Haj and Umrah. Travel for religious purposes represents the second most important sector in the Kingdom. But the country seeks to prove it can also attract visitors for its touristic attractions, whether they be archaeological sites, pristine beaches or excellent diving. Untapped, untouched, and unspoiled. That’s what the Saudi Red Sea islands offer, thanks to their clear blue seas, white sandy beaches and coral reefs.

On land, the Kingdom’s main attractions include the route to Petra in Jordan in the era of the Nabateans, the Hejaz railway route and Sarawat Mountains and the ancient, rock-cut tombs and ruins at Mada’in Saleh, the first place in Saudi Arabia to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Diriyah, a town located on the northwestern outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, was also declared a World Heritage Site in 2010.

Tourism is an important, even vital, source of income for many regions and countries. In fact, many countries rely heavily on tourism as their main source of income. Today, the business of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Its importance was recognized in the Manila Declaration on World Tourism of 1980 as “an activity essential to the life of nations”. Also, for many people, vacations and travel are increasingly being viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury. One of the best ways of getting to know a country and its people is to actually go there. And once you get there, tourists will find that the Kingdom is not just about stereotyped oil, desert sand and camels.

Saudi Arabia is usually not the first destination to spring to mind when planning a holiday. That accolade is normally reserved for countries such as France, the US, Spain, Italy and the UK. But the Kingdom’s Red Sea diving and ancient ruins can put it on the tourist map and turn into a multi-billion dollar industry.