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Saudi Arabia, Your Next Holiday Destination?

Hany Kenawi

Author: Hany Kenawi
Senior Lawyer.

Guiding Principle
Moving towards an economy that is less dependent on oil, Saudi Arabia announced in April 2016, its decision to develop the tourism and leisure sectors in the country. The decision is for developing local tourist sites in accordance with the highest international standards and facilitating the procedures for issuing visas to visitors. This in addition also to the development of the historical and heritage sites in the country. The announcement came as part of the Saudi Vision 2030’s plan to diversify the national economy. To achieve this target, the plan was composed of several pillars including developing public service sectors such as tourism. An activity that was mainly limited to religious pilgrimages to the cities of Makkah and Madinah. Since 2016, several huge touristic projects were set to be established in the Kingdom. Projects that are intended to make Saudi Arabia one of the most attractive countries for tourism.

A. Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Being a conservative Islamic country, developing touristic activities in Saudi Arabia was facing major obstacles. As the country is now keen on moving towards an economy that is less dependent on oil in light of its plan “Saudi Vision 2030”[1], it decided to develop the services sectors including tourism and leisure industry and overcome any obstacles preventing the developments of these sectors.

Tourism has received accordingly an increasing support from the Saudi government represented by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH)[2]. The Commission worked towards transferring the sector into an economic one that would contribute increasingly to the GNP. Consistent with this target, the SCTH has compiled the necessary statistics to reach its goal, which can be found at the Commission’s website dedicated specially for this statics: www.mas.gov.sa/ In addition, the Commission has launched a new website for promoting tourism to the Kingdom at the following address: www.sauditourism.sa/en/

The SCTH has announced that 200,000 tourist visas are available for the year 2018 reaching 1 million visas in 2019. Tourists desiring to obtain such visas shall obtain it through locally licensed bodies who shall supervise arrangements of the tourist’s visits as well. The tourist should come in groups no less than 4 people. Women, less than 30 years should be accompanied by a male 1st degree relative.

B. Developing Local Tourist and Entertainment Sites
Several announcements were made following the announcement of the Saudi Vision 2030, concerning the planning for establishing huge touristic projects in Saudi Arabia. In April 2017, a project for building the largest entertainment, sports and cultural city in the world “Al Qadeya Project”, was unveiled as the future entertainment capital of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, several non-Saudi entertainment companies including Six Flags company were granted an investment license to operate in the Kingdom. This comes in line with the announcement of the launch of a global tourism project in the Kingdom under the name of the “Red Sea” project on the waterfront of the Kingdom on the Red Sea.

The new waterfront provides an opportunity to explore the nature of the Kingdom from islands, coasts and extinct volcanoes as well as nature reserves and antiquities.
One type of tourism and entertainment that Saudi Arabia focuses on is the $ 260 billion adventure tourism as estimated by the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

C. Saudi World Heritage Sites
Saudi Arabia is interested also in developing its heritage sites to attract visitors. In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)[3] declared Madain Saleh, a World Heritage Site, thus becoming the first site in Saudi Arabia to join the World Heritage List.

I. Madain Saleh
Madain Saleh used to be known as “the city of stone”, is an archaeological site located in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, specifically in the province of Ola of the Medina. The place is strategically located on the road linking the southern Arabian Peninsula with Mesopotamia, the Levant and Egypt. The place has its historical reputation from its location on the ancient trade road connecting the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, and the stone is called Diyar Thamud in the valley of villages between Medina and Tabuk. The stone was mentioned in the Qur’an as the home of the Thamud people, who responded to the call of the Prophet of Allah, and then turned away from their religion and disobeyed the camel that Allah sent to them, and destroyed them with a shout. Madain Saleh is one of the most important cities of the Nabataeans after their capital, Petra. It contains the largest southern settlement of the Nabatean kingdom after Petra in Jordan, which is separated by a distance of 500 km. The most important cultural role dates back to the first centuries BC and the first century AD. It was believed that the stone continued in its civilization until the fourth century AD, and was the capital of the kingdom of Lahian in the north of the Arabian Peninsula.

The monuments of Madain Saleh contain 153 carved rock facades and a number of Islamic monuments, including a number of castles and remains of the Hejaz railway, which extends 13 kilometres, as well as the station and locomotives. In 2008, the site was listed as a World Heritage Site, becoming the first site to be registered in Saudi Arabia. Another archaeological site known as Shu’ayb is located north-west of Madain Saleh and follows the Tabuk region, where the site contains traces very similar to those in Madain Saleh.

II. Diriyah
In 2010, the city Diriyah was added to the list. Diriyah is an Arab city located in the region of Yamama, a historic city in the southern plateau of Najd. It is about 20 km away from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Diriyah is a prominent national symbol in the history of Saudi Arabia. It was the capital of the first Saudi state. The city was a historic turning point in the Arabian Peninsula after Muhammad ibn Saud supported the call for the renewal of the religion by Abd al-Wahhab in 1744.

III. Historical Jeddah
In 2014, the historical Jeddah was added to the same list. Historical Jeddah or as known locally “Jeddah al-Balad”, is located in the centre of the city of Jeddah at the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Its history dates back to pre-Islamic times. The region includes a number of monuments and buildings of heritage, such as the wall of Jeddah and its historical lanes: Al-Mazloum lane, Levant lane, Yemen lane and Sea lane. In addition to a number of historical mosques such as Othman ibn Affan Mosque, Al-Shafi mosque and historical markets.

IV. The Rock Arts in Hail
The rock arts in Hail were added in 2015 to the World Heritage List. These are the drawings at Mount Umm Sinman in the city of Juba, Ratt and Manjour in Shweimis, where the area of the Mount Umm Senman was an ancient lake and its inhabitants left many inscriptions about their lives. Ratt and Manjour were two valleys with drawings of ten-thousand years.


[1] The Saudi Vision website: vision2030.gov.sa/en

[2] The SCTH website: www.scth.gov.sa

[3] UNESCO website: en.unesco.org/

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