You can get thrown in jail in Saudi Arabia for making out on the beach, but with its new leader’s mission to modernize the ultra-conservative Islamic society, Saudi Arabia may become one of the top 10 beach destinations in the world. Maybe even topless? Well, let’s not go that far. But it is located on one of the world’s most gorgeous seas and geographies, on the Red Sea below Jordan and Israel and opposite Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. A new project is underway to make the Red Sea a western friendly destination: hijab optional, kissing encouraged.
Saudi Arabia hosts several million foreigners every year, but it’s limiting religious and social codes are a major turnoff for tourists who want to have fun, western style: drinking a beer, holding hands, sunbathing.
The whole move is part of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social movement known as “Vision 2030,” and to fulfil it a tourist zone will be built around the 50 islands of the Red Sea – a location where visa restrictions for tourists will be more relaxed. And this is specifically, for women who are shamed for wearing western style clothing.
Today Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code. Regardless of their religion practice, Muslim women must wear a loose-fitting robes known as an “abayas” in public, along with a headscarf if they are Muslim. This is also true in Iran, Saudi Arabia’s enemy #1.
Rules are loosening so that women can drive, yet in practice they still need a man to accompany them wherever they go. Obviously all these rules can be a big downer for tourists, but also for anyone who wants to come to work in Saudi Arabia. A friend of mine teaching English said he felt choked over there and would never go back again.
As for tourists, if you don’t want to stay in a Bedouin tent in Sinai, Saudi Arabia is reserving about 150 miles of coastline just for you. Future travellers can expect to see protected coral reefs, volcanoes, and a nature reserve inhabited by rare wildlife like Arabian leopards and falcons. We do caution however that if environmentalists aren’t brought in soon there will probably be no reefs or leopoards or falcons left to see.
Among the Red Sea attractions are the ancient ruins of Madain Saleh, a Unesco World Heritage site. Try also parachuting, trekking and rock climbing. Or just enjoying the vista — across the Red Sea is God’s Mountain and all the spiritual stories from the bible.
Expect construction of the new resorts to start in 2019. The first phase will include building a new airport, luxury hotels and accommodation and is expected to be complete in 2022. If you are a LEED-certified or Estidama-certified architect get yourself to Saudi Arabia immediately for new work. The region needs you.