When people ask Kami Turky about his travels to Saudi Arabia, he has two tips: Don’t miss traditional food like Kabsaa dish of mixed rice, and Tharida stew of lamb and vegetables, “which are delicious”.
“And bring your sunglasses,” says Turky, logistics manager for an aquarium supply website in Flint, Michigan. Because it’s always warm and sunny.
There has been a lot of curiosity about travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia lately. Authorities have unveiled a bold plan to build a mirrored skyscraper 75 miles taller than the Empire State Building this summer. The country’s Tourism Minister, Ahmed Al Khateeb, has announced that the government will spend $1 trillion on the tourism sector over the next decade. New luxury hotels are opening at a breakneck pace in Saudi Arabia. But questions also remain about the safety of visiting the kingdom, even as the country has opened up to foreign visitors.
“The kingdom has undergone remarkable changes in recent years,” says Saudi Arabia analyst Sean Foley. Middle Tennessee State University. “Saudi Arabia is an easy country to visit and a rewarding experience for travelers. Obtaining a visa takes minutes and can be done online. The country has several unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites and modern infrastructure.”
Tourism in Saudi Arabia represents less than 10% of the economy, Frank Harrison, regional director of security for North America and the United Kingdom, told Worldwide travel protection.
“Most tourism focuses on Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and there are very controlled expectations on how long pilgrims can stay in the country,” he says. “For those traveling to tourist destinations, there are fantastic inland desert dives and coastal adventures.”
Visitors who have stayed in some of the regions developed for tourism, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, report that their trips to the kingdom have been remarkable experiences. Turky says he felt safe and welcome during his two visits to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“People are kind and helpful,” he recalls.
I contacted KSA officials earlier this week for details of their tourism funding plans. I also asked about some of the recent changes in Saudi regulations that made it easier to visit, what types of tourists they wanted to attract, and overall security. A representative said the organization would try to respond but approvals from the Saudi Tourism Authority “may take a little longer”.
Is travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia safe?
Experts say KSA is safe – up to a point.
The crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low, according to official sources. The main risks for tourists are petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, which occur mainly in crowded areas.
This spring, the Saudi Ministry of Tourism quietly ordered the removal of all security checkpoints for vehicles and guests at tourist accommodation establishments, according to Michael O’Rourke, CEO of Advanced operational conceptsa security consulting firm.
“This mandatory change was not the result of an improvement in the security situation or a reduction in the risk of terrorism,” he says. “Removing these defenses created a security hole that you can drive through with a heavily loaded truck.”
Last month, the State Department issued an advisory urging American citizens to reconsider the trip to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of missile and drone attacks against civilian installations. The government has advised Americans not to travel within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemeni border. The cities of Abha, Jizan, Najran and Khamis Mushayt are on the banned list, along with Abha airport and Qatif in the eastern province and its suburbs.
The country is also known for its surveillance of telephone and electronic communications, says Dale Buckner, travel security expert and CEO of Global Guardian.
“Travelers should assume that communication is monitored at all times,” he says. “Hotel rooms may also be monitored and accessed without the guest’s consent. Electronic devices may be checked by customs officers upon arrival and departure.”
Even if you overlook all the current security issues, visitors still have concerns stemming from several other recent events. These include the mass execution of 81 people this spring and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Saudi Arabia is changing – slowly
The Saudi government has taken significant steps to welcome tourists to Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, tourism officials relaxed their entry requirements in a move to encourage more visitors. The new regulations offer residents of the Gulf States the option of applying for an eVisa through their online portal. UK, US and EU residents can also apply for a visa upon arrival.
“Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman there have been many modernization measures, and attracting Western tourists appears to be a serious priority,” says John Gobbels, chief operating officer of the air medical transport company and travel security. Medjet. “But that doesn’t mean things changed overnight. Failure to follow their laws and moral codes can still have serious repercussions, and people should consider this very seriously before deciding to travel there. .”
Shelley Ewing, President of Level 1 travelclaims that not all visitors are welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia has a strict rule that prohibits any LGBTQ+ activity. For your own safety, traveling to Saudi Arabia is not recommended if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” she says.
Ewing says there are potential dangers for women visiting Saudi Arabia, particularly if they do not abide by Saudi Arabia’s strict moral laws, which include dressing modestly at all times, covering shoulders and knees and to wear a robe-like robe, called an abaya when entering mosques.
Travel tips for visiting Saudi Arabia
If you want to visit Saudi Arabia, here are some expert tips.
There are rules — a lot rules
Public displays of affection, profane language and photographing government buildings and local residents without permission are just a few examples of illegal activities,” says Narendra Khatri, Director of Underbuy, a travel insurance company. “Also, you should remember to dress modestly, with loose clothing that doesn’t expose your knees and shoulders. Dressing like a typical westerner can attract unwanted attention from the authorities.” He says that while some of these laws may only result in fines or warnings, the Saudi legal system may result in defendants being held without charge for long periods of time, with limited access to legal representation.
Pay attention to your medications
“Alcohol consumption is currently prohibited and over-the-counter drugs like Sudafed and Vicks are illegal,” says Dan Richards, CEO of world rescue, a provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. “Travelers should research Saudi laws carefully before travelling. Even if a medicine is legal, always keep it in its original packaging and carry a copy of a prescription.”
Visit from November to March
“These are the best months to visit Saudi Arabia as the weather is pleasant and tolerable,” says Mahmood Khan, a tourism professor at Virginia Tech. During the summer, daytime high temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees, making it impossible to do anything outside. It also helps if you like to stay up late. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comes alive after sunset. Khan says the best time to shop is late at night.
Should you visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
So, should you visit Saudi Arabia? The answer is complicated. The kingdom literally invests billions of dollars to attract tourists like you.
“At this time, traveling to Saudi Arabia should be reserved for the adventurous, the open-minded and frequent travelers,” says Tiffany Bowne, Founder of Couture Salon, a luxury travel agency. “If you’re trying to see a place before it’s built and marketed, it’s now. Be prepared for all types of travelers.
I’ve traveled extensively in the Middle East, and every time I mention Saudi Arabia I get a curious response – a mixture of admiration and hesitation. The admiration part is easy: any country with a trillion-dollar tourism budget and 75-mile skyscrapers has being seen.
Much of the hesitant part is Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which the Saudi government obviously hopes new hotels and giga projects will make us forget. Whether it works remains to be seen.