As the global economy continues to spiral downward, and the price of oil hovers around the $40/barrel, down more than $100 from last summer, Middle Eastern countries are looking for new opportunities to bolster their coffers. To that end, Saudi Arabia has begun opening its borders to visitors from the West, although there are a few caveats for anyone planning to make the journey.
According to this story from the Times Online the majority of the six million travelers who visit Saudi Arabia are Muslims making their pilgrimage to Mecca, but this past November that changed, when the first group cultural tour to the country in more than seven years took place, and come March, British Airways will resume service to Riyadh and Jeddah for the first time in nearly four years. The Office of the Supreme Commission on Tourism says that the country will begin issuing tourist visas in the near future, ushering in a new era of openness for Saudi Arabia.
And what does the country have to offer western travelers? For starters, the region is rich in history that dates back thousands of years, and there are remnants of past civilizations to visit and explore. The rich and diverse landscapes of the desert are also a draw to tourists, as is the unique culture that is unlike any that most westerners have experienced before.Unfortunately, traveling in Saudi Arabia still has a few hurdles to over come before it can become mainstream. Terrorist activity in the country remains a real threat, requiring all outsiders to travel with a police escort at all times, and foreign women are required to wear traditional Saudi clothing, and are also not allowed to drive, visit Internet cafes, and are excluded from some restaurants.
Fixing those issues will take some time, and probably more exposure from the West. But it’s a big step for Saudi Arabia to open up to the outside, and a wonderful opportunity for travelers to experience a place that they haven’t had the opportunity to visit before.