Controversial New Images Show How Saudi Arabia Hopes To Recover After The Pandemic

"Imagine being there and u can't order a drink."

Controversial New Images Show How Saudi Arabia Hopes To Recover After The Pandemic

Saudi Arabia is known for its desert, mountains, reefs, oases, backstreets and markets. What it’s not known for its stellar human rights record (or tourism).

But in recent years it has been making an attempt to shift its image. Though the cynics might call it the ultimate experiment in PR fluff (throw an Instagram influencer in the desert and the crowds will follow), looking at it another way, it could just be that people are curious to see Saudi Arabia because of its controversies, not just in spite of them.

World Bank data shows, though international tourism arrivals dropped off from 2014 to 2018, they jumped back up again from 17 million in 2018 to 20 million in 2019 (the year they started issuing tourist visas for the first time).


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As Alarabiya News reports, Saudi Arabia has been working towards revamping its tourism and entertainment sectors by promoting its coastline and UNESCO-recognized heritage sites.

Speaking of world heritage sites, AlUla, “an open-air museum the size of a country” has recently burst across the eyeballs of many social media users after a recent Instagram post by Complex (originally taken by Instagram user @tmmnatk909).


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Comments underneath the post showed surprise and admiration among users (Lebron James chimed in to say: “BEAUTIFUL”).

“My lord the perfect place to smoke a Bleezy does exist.”


There was also a healthy dose of scepticism. “Pre-Hell be like…” one user wrote. “Imagine being there and u can’t order a drink,” said another.

It’s great, “until a sand storm comes” yet another Instagram follower remarked.

“Lil gust of wind n it’s a wrap.”

Though it is unclear exactly which part of AlUla this video is taken at, it is clear that the location is part of Saudi Arabia’s latest tourism push.


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Popular Instagram images under the AlUla geotag show travel bloggers like @parisverra dancing in the sun in AlUla.

Other images of this ilk, from influencers seen to be promoting Saudi Arabia in 2019, sparked huge controversy online when they were published.

RELATED: Influencer’s ‘Insensitive’ Saudi Arabia Photoshoot Sparks Age Old Debate

At about 8,710 square miles – bigger than Slovenia – AlUla, which is the area in the remote upper pocket of northwest Saudi Arabia, “was from 900 B.C.E. to 106 C.E. a bustling outpost criss-crossed by caravans carrying spices, incense, beads, and ceramics along the trade routes from Arabia to Jordan and the Mediterranean,” AFAR reports.

“The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), formed in 2017, only opened AlUla to visitors full time in phases in October 2020 after undertaking a ‘sensitive renewal’ of the region. AlUla is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s broader Saudi Vision 2030, which looks to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and fortify its recreation and tourism offerings.”

From tombs to ancient libraries, the region has a lot to see.

Travel Daily News reports that AlUla Old Town “has welcomed its first visitors back after a three year hiatus for extensive restoration and conservation in sections of the town’s tightly packed stone and mudbrick buildings.”

“The site, one of four significant heritage sites in AlUla, the home of ancient Kingdoms, is now officially open as a year round tourism precinct and will offer four new eateries, a suq, entertainment and a handicraft pavilion when works are completed.”

More to the point of the Complex video, Arab News reports that “the natural wonders of AlUla are providing the backdrop for a range of rejuvenating and spiritual outdoor activities and experiences.”

“The heritage site has been picked as the perfect spot to stage a series of wellness events throughout March.”

“The destination’s majestic atmosphere allows participants to relax while enjoying group activities amid the peaceful natural surroundings of AlUla.”

“One of the highlighted wellness activities this winter will see visitors take mountain walks and learn about the area, while experiencing the elements and then unwinding to musical performances in a spacious tent beside Camel Rock.”

AlUla isn’t the only place being marketed to tourists. According to Alarabiya News, “The Red Sea Project is also a much-anticipated tourist destination being developed in the Kingdom, where the ultra-luxurious and sustainable development is set to host resorts on 50 islands off the coast of the Red Sea.”

“It will also be accessible by 80 percent of the world’s population in less than eight hours.”

“A mega-theme park is also being developed, known as Qiddiyah, an hour’s drive from Riyadh. It expects to attract 1.5 million visitors each year when the first phase opens in 2022.”

As for whether it’s safe to visit, the BBC reported the following in 2019: “This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has made a major push to attract tourists. The last time was in 2000, when it hired French alpine instructors from Chamonix to take holidaying Saudis rock-climbing and paragliding.”

“But grand plans to expand this fledgling industry ground to a halt the following year after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US which were carried out by, among others, 15 Saudi nationals.”

“Since then the country has fought and defeated an insurgency by al-Qaeda in the mid-2000s and is currently trying to extricate itself from a war in neighbouring Yemen that has seen cross-border missile strikes.”

“Despite that, the country is largely safe with minimal crime and violence (though if you’re a British citizen it is always best to check the Foreign Office travel advisory).”

Likewise, we would recommend any aspiring visitor to check with their home country’s Foreign Office before hitting purchase on their flight tickets.

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