Home to holy cities Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has had religious tourism for centuries, and now is also opening up to more of the conventional kind. Besides a look into a singular society, it also offers fascinating places like Madain Saleh and the vast Empty Quarter.

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Saudi to offer unrestricted tourist visas for the first time, but...

The Guardian reports that as part of a push to diversify the economy away from oil, the Saudis are pushing to develop tourism, with visas available as of tomorrow. But it also points out that it's a "hard sell," due to factors including restrictions on women's dress, lack of alcohol, austere social climate, fears of regional instability, and distaste over the kingdom's tattered human-rights reputation (such as the brutal Kashoggi murder and persecution of women's-rights and other civil…

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Saudi Arabia opens up for tourism

KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) has opened up for non Muslim tourists, albeit they are not going in full force to promote the destination. Most parts of the country are open save the cities of Mecca and Medina. Places like Jeddah, Madina Saleh,Nafud desert, the ancient Hejaf railway, Riyadh - all have a lot to offer. Visas are available through licensed tour operators - the best time to visit is before they open up to mass tourism.  

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  • Travel vlogger Drew Binsky has more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube, and one of his more popular recent videos is this one, from this past January on how he visited the holy city of Mecca, notoriously hard to get into if you aren't Muslim: https://youtu.be/P24WZp0gVRg
  • Why new Saudi rules on this year's hajj booking threatens potentially thousands of British Muslims: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-61752659
    Hajj-Muslim pilgrims face losing out from online booking to Mecca
    The Saudi government wants Muslims to book online for Mecca but many have already paid tour agents.
  • Besides the connection of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman with the brutal assassination of U.S.-based dissident journalist Adnan Kashoggi in 2018, when it comes to Saudi Arabia it seems we most often hear about the fraught status of women here. So I was interested to come across a series of videos by Dubai-based Aoife Clifford - who vlogs at a YouTube channel called Teach Me Vogue and specializes in travel in the Muslim world - about visiting the kingdom as a single woman. Here's one: https://youtu.be/ihzdWeRokYc
  • An 18th-century fortress is bulldozed to make way for a shopping mall and replica of Big Ben in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Is this progress, or a crime against the country's historical and cultural heritage? Read the story and share your thoughts.

  • In February Saudi Arabia opened up for non-Muslim tourists, but the government seems to have changed its mind: It just announced that it will no longer issue visas for travel unrelated to religion or business. What next?
  • Rijal Alma: a national heritage village

    (Forimmediaterelease.net) HRH Prince Sultan Bin Salman, the president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, launched the project for developing Rijal Alma as a heritage village. Rijal Alma, located in Aseer province 70 kilometers to Abha, was chosen as a part of this program, because it contains a lot of historical houses and other ancient monuments. This project comes as a part of SCTA's initiatives to develop heritage villages and sites in various provinces in the Kingdom with the collaboration of other government departments. The project will be carried out as a joint venture - eight ministries and cooperative societies owned by the residents of the village will cooperate on this project, which will benefit the locals in particular and the nation in general.

    During the launch, Prince Sultan stated: “Rijal Alma is one of the SCTA's projects for developing heritage villages and towns projects. It aims at rehabilitating these sites after being on the verge of destruction and transforming them into economical projects that attract investments and generates employment opportunities for locals."

    Rijal Alma village won the Prince Sultan bin Salman Prize for Preservation of Urban Heritage in 2006. Commenting on this, SCTA's president stated: “Rijal Alma village has introduced itself independently. The residents initiated the rehabilitation works a long time ago to attract tourists to the area and benefit from its economic potentials. We learned a lot from the Rijal Alma experience; we ought to help and support them through this project. What you have seen now is an example of public and private sectors and local community solidarity and cooperation; moreover, an example of an integrated economic, architectural, renovation, and training project aimed at providing various benefits to the residents of the village, such as creating jobs, economic and investment opportunities, marketing local products, as well as fighting poverty."

    Other heritage development projects include Al-Muthnib village in Qassim, Jubbah in Hail, Al-Ola in Madinah, Al-Ghat in Ghat, and Thee Ain in Al-Baha.
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