by Ronnie Charrier
Over the last 12 months, Saudi Arabia has given citizenship to a robot named Sophia, lifted a 35-year ban on movie theaters, began plans on a $500-billion dollar futuristic city called NEOM, given women the right to drive, and, as of 30 days from now, will start issuing tourist visas for the first time since it clamped down on visitors in 2010.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, keen on moving the nation's economy away from a dependence on oil, is the driving force behind Saudi's new-found commitment to its tourism and leisure industry. Along with these changes, there are also plans in place to convert 50 Red Sea islands into luxury beach resorts and has ambitious plans to build an 'entertainment city' to rival Las Vegas, while billionaire Richard Branson is also set to invest in the country's tourism drive.
Just a few of the hidden gems you could visit in Saudi Arabia
The country's ambitious goal is that they will welcome 30 million visitors per year by 2030 (up from 18 million in 2016, a vast majority of which were visitors on a pilgrimage), as they hope that by 2020 their tourism spend will hit $47 billion per year.
The Crown Prince is supported by members of the House of Saud, including Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). This also coincides with the Crown Prince promising a more “open, moderate Islam,” with some restrictions being relaxed.
While many travelers will likely remain wary of visiting a country with such a history of conservative culture, it certainly seems that the Crown Prince is doing all he can to change that reputation.
So, will you be adding Saudi Arabia to your travel destinations this year?