Saudi Arabia unveils a ’semi-autonomous’ tourism plan

Saudi Arabia plans to build a "semi-autonomous" visa-free travel destination along its north-western Red Sea coast where restrictions on women's dress, gender segregation and other conservative norms could be waived.

The Red Sea project will include diving attractions and a nature reserve, with some areas resembling the luxury hotels, islands and lagoons of the Maldives.

The country's Public Investment Fund said it will provide the seed capital to develop the resort area, explaining that the new "semi-autonomous area will be governed by laws on par with international standards".

The fund said the project will attract leading names in hotels to "bring about the next-generation of tourism in a way that will open" Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastline to tourists from around the world.

The sovereign wealth fund developing the project is headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young prince who in June was named heir to the throne by his father King Salman.

The prince is overseeing a dramatic overhaul of the economy to lessen its dependence on oil exports for revenue.

Tourism is a key part of the prince's Vision 2030 plan.

The plan aims to diversify and modernise Saudi society and the economy, and includes plans for keeping some of the Saudi money spent abroad each year in the country.

It also calls for raising tourism revenues outside of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which Saudi Arabia oversees.

The Red Sea project aims to specifically generate 15 billion Saudi riyals annually for Saudi Arabia's economy and create 35,000 jobs.

The ultraconservative country has already opened its doors to more entertainment in order to generate more local spending and appease the country's burgeoning youth population.

The PIF is the main investor in a Six Flags theme park that is expected to be built in a new entertainment city that will be the first of its kind in the kingdom.

The fund said the Red Sea project will be built along 200 kilometres of coastline and is tailored towards global luxury travellers and those seeking wellness travel, a genre of tourism associated with personal well-being and health.

Among the attractions will be protected coral reefs, dormant volcanoes, a nature reserve inhabited by rare wildlife such as Arabian leopards and falcons, and trips to Saudi Arabia's ancient ruins of Mada'in Saleh, classified as a Unesco world heritage site.

Also on offer will be parachuting, trekking and rock climbing.

AP


 

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