Saudi Arabia wants to turn hundreds of kilometers of its Red Sea coastline into a global tourism destination governed by laws “on par with international standards” as part of its plan to transform the economy and reduce its reliance on oil.
The project will cover 50 islands and 34,000 square kilometers — an area bigger than Belgium — between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh to attract “luxury travelers from around the globe,” according to an official statement sent to Bloomberg on Tuesday. It will be developed by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, with the first work expected in two years.
Bringing sun-seekers to Saudi beaches could transform a tourism industry that relies almost solely on Muslim pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. But while the announcement emphasized the economic benefits, past mega-projects to diversify the economy have struggled to get off the ground, and questions are likely to be raised over how acceptable the plan is to the kingdom’s influential religious establishment.
“If you can’t change restrictions on alcohol and dress, that market disappears,” said Crispin Hawes, London-based managing director at Teneo Intelligence, referring to foreign tourists.
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