As part of its quest to become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is moving to give women more freedom to wear what they like on beaches in a new massive tourism project on the Red Sea. In addition, presenting marriage contracts will not be a requirement for visitors in order to acquire joint accommodation in its hotels.
In August 2021, Pure Beach opened in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC, pronounced "cake"), in the north of Jeddah, west of the country, and became the first and only beach in the Kingdom to allows Saudi and foreign visitors to wear bikinis and walk around in it during the day, smoke shisha, and bring their pets without restrictions. This all comes in addition to the late-night parties full of dancing and loud music, according to what visitors were quoted by AFP at the time.
Officials at the venue told the agency that they are not looking into whether or not there’s an official or marital relationship between partners visiting or staying at the place. They point out that they only confiscate mobile phones for the sake of the privacy of the venue's visitors, and that the place does not serve alcoholic beverages since they are prohibited in the Kingdom.
Providing an "ambitious” tourism “experience like no other”.. The Red Sea project in Saudi Arabia promises visitors to no restrictions on dress and accommodation, including visitors wearing bikinis and staying with partners without a marriage certificate
Now, the Red Sea Destination Project, also known as Red Sea Global (RSG), is poised to offer an “ambitious” and “unparalleled tourism experience”, with no restrictions on women's dress, movement and residence, including wearing bikinis and staying with partners without the need for a marriage certificate.
No restrictions on women
When asked about the rules that might change to achieve tourism goals in Saudi Arabia, Loredana Pettinati, Senior Travel Trade Director at Red Sea Global, says, “As a European person I can tell you, I feel very comfortable. There will not be restrictions for women. Across Saudi Arabia, we do not have to wear an abaya; women are allowed to drive. There will be no distinction between women and men entering any facility, anywhere.”
She goes on to add, as was reported by the "Hotelier" site that covers hotel, travel and tourism news in the Middle East, the Kingdom, and the Gulf in particular, “Accommodation in hotels will not be a problem if you are not married. We will not ask a man and woman booking a hotel if they’re married or not. Women will be able to wear bikinis at the Red Sea Destination.”
“There will be no distinction between women and men entering any facility, anywhere... We will not ask a man and woman booking a hotel if they’re married or not. Women will be able to wear bikinis” — Senior officer at the Red Sea Project
The project director made the remarks during a promotional event for the Red Sea Destination in Dubai, during which Pettinati presented visuals detailing the full vision of the mega project and confirmed the opening of its first three hotels in May 2023. This year, the Red Sea International Airport (RSI) will also be established to facilitate the arrival of visitors, according to project officials.
Pettinati went on to stress that “Authenticity is at the core of RSG. We aim to develop memorable journeys, tourism, and personalized experiences. GCC’s luxury travel segment is growing at an admirable pace and exhibiting immense promise.”
Upon completion in 2030, The Red Sea project is expected to feature 50 resorts offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties spread across 22 islands and six inland locations. In addition to the international airport, the destination will also include luxury marinas, golf courses, floating villas, and recreational and leisure facilities.
According to the project's official website, “The Red Sea is pioneering a brand-new luxury regenerative tourism destination along the west coast of Saudi Arabia. One of the world’s last true hidden treasures, The Red Sea is surrounded by the world's fourth-largest barrier reef system and spans over 28,000-square-kilometers of pristine land on the Kingdom's west coast. The destination includes an archipelago of more than 90 untouched islands, pristine beaches, dormant volcanoes, sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, and historical cultural sites.”
In 2021, Pure Beach became the first and only beach in the Kingdom to allow female visitors to wear bikinis and stay with partners without a marriage certificate. Now, the mega Red Sea Project offers the same experience to attract foreign and domestic tourism
Tourism in the Kingdom
Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power, the young prince who became the kingdom's de facto ruler, has implemented radical social and economic changes, most notably allowing men and women to mix more freely in public, allowing women to drive, and abolishing the religious police known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV).
As for the Kingdom's Vision 2030, which aims to diversify sources of national income and not just rely on oil, it was the most prominent economic transformation, and tourism and investment in entertainment have become one of the most prominent pillars of this vision.
The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, after having been relatively closed-off for decades, has been issuing since 2019 instant tourist visas to citizens from 49 countries, most of which are European, after demand had been largely limited to work, Hajj, and Umrah visas. Soft visas were subsequently introduced to attend artistic and cultural events to facilitate the entry of more foreign visitors.
The kingdom aims to attract about 100 million visitors annually by 2030. It is preparing for these masses by establishing more than 40,000 hotel rooms at the moment, according to Hotelier.
On the other hand, human rights accusations that the Kingdom is trying to whitewash its international image with such corrective decisions are increasing despite the continued detention of many feminist activists and prisoners of conscience in the country.
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