Saudi Tourism
Over the last few years Saudi Arabia has opened up its domestic tourism in a big way Image Credit: Supplied

Ramadan is over and for most schoolchildren in Saudi Arabia, the end of the school year is very near. Two years of being heavily cloistered between home and walls have left a lot of people eager and ready to explore boundaries that a year ago were not permissible. Remember the Covid-19 pandemic?

To understand tourism in this country, one has to come to grips with what is it that still drives most families to foreign destinations. Is it the summer heat, the exotic attractions, or just what? Bear in mind that in the past few years the kingdom has gone to extraordinary lengths to facilitate tourism across all regions and has been regularly introducing world-class attractions to the Saudi public. But yet the urge to go beyond our borders exists within many as they contemplate the approaching summer holidays.

I caught up with a few individuals who have booked plans for a vacation abroad. Shukri, a professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah is making plans to fly off to Malaysia with his family. This is not the first time for him and his family to the same destination. He finds the country hospitable, the people very friendly, the prices just right, and many outlets of entertainment for his growing children. As a father of four, the country and its many attractions suit his budget.

Steep accommodation prices

When asked why he did not choose a domestic destination, he quickly responded, “Domestic destinations are getting better. But the prices for their visits are still a bit high for me and my entire family. I can get a package deal with an airline which includes our stay in Malaysia cheaper than if I was to visit some of the popular attractions here with their steep accommodation prices.”

Faisal, a municipal worker, is off to Egypt. “I like Egypt for its variety, its friendliness, and for the bottom line that I do not have to go into debt if my family and I want to escape somewhere for a month or so. Tell me where you can find such places here? My children are interested in history, and Egypt’s ancient civilisation and historical artefacts offer them a chance to witness them first-hand. Our historic quarters are still in the process of being developed. Perhaps next year, I will take my family to recently discovered ruins within the kingdom.”

Salma, a housewife from Taif had this to say. “During my childhood, I remember my father packing off the whole family to the hilly resorts of Abha and Sawdah. Even during the hottest period of the year, we would enjoy the cool morning mist as we camped on the hillside. But go to them today. There’s hardly any area that’s not walled off and restricted to visitors. And in the few places available, facilities are not up to bearable standards while prices for accommodations are atrocious. That is precisely why my family and I are escaping to Switzerland.”

Muneer, an architect is off to Cape Town in South Africa with his family. “We love the water, the beaches, the crashing of the waves. Cape Town has it all including good weather, fair prices and a lot of attractions to keep my children amused. And the people are genuinely friendly to tourists. What more could I want? And besides, show me any vast stretch of coastline still accessible to the general public.”

Miles of coastline

“Yes, we do have hundreds of miles of coastline both in the east and west of this country”” he continued. “But are they open to the public? And for the price that I would have to fork out in one of these private beach resorts for a week here, I could easily manage a much longer period in Cape Town. And that’s including airfare for my entire family!”

Leila, a university student in Jeddah, had this to say. “I’m off to Paris with my family. Why? Because I love art, and Paris is a city of the arts. And I enjoy the variety of people from everywhere, all minding their own business as they meander through the city. And the cuisine … par excellence.”

To be fair, in recent times the kingdom has made tremendous efforts to provide and cater to domestic and international tourism. And all that is happening. But there are those who are stuck back in time and are not willing to chance it. Maybe more interesting venues catering to the climatic conditions at a fair price are the answer.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena