The BBC recently reported Saudi Arabia's plan to convert 50 Red Sea islands into luxury tourist resorts. The Kingdom continues to attract pilgrims in droves, who are likely to swell to 30 million (from the current 8 million) by 2030. Little is known about the abundance of heritage sites, despite been registered with the UNESCO, which is intriguing.
This of course, sounds promising to those working in the Industry, as the increasing saturation in other regional Tourism hotspots, means travellers are look explore something beyond man-made marvels.
As someone who frequents Saudi Arabia, as a pilgrim, I can say that the Kingdom is working very hard to compete with global tourism giants. Language certainly is a barrier; the Kingdom now increasingly uses English, making navigating airport customs and immigration easier. Currently, it would be best to explore the Kingdom, through a tour operator, as that would ensure you visit is smooth and enjoyable, as venturing outside major cities on your own, would require a basic understanding of Arabic. Health & Safety is of paramount importance, the Ministry of Health continues to mitigate the risks by proactively taking steps to ensure those entering the kingdom meet basic medical fitness requirements or have the prerequisite jabs.
Investment in infrastructure, despite the supressed oil prices, is on track and I noted, on my visit recently, that a new high speed rail linking major cities is fast rising in the desert sand. The new airport at Madinah is not only world class but a breeze through get through as most of the immigration procedures are now automated.
No doubt, when I return next year, I shall be greeted by even more improvements and who knows, perhaps soon, instead of the usual pilgrim cap, I shall don my well-worn traveller hat!