Red Sea Development spans fifty islands
Saudi Arabia has launched a massive tourism development project that will transform 50 Red Sea islands into luxury resorts. Known as Vision 2030, the project is part of a plan spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to the Saudi throne. With oil revenues tumbling, tourism has been earmarked as a new way to earn income and provide jobs. It is hoped foreign tourists and domestic visitors will be attracted to diversify the Saudi economy.
Construction of the new resorts is slated to begin in 2019. The first phase will include a new airport, luxury hotels and housing, with completion expected in 2022. The development will span 200 km of Saudi's western Red Sea coastline, home to coral reefs, dormant volcanoes and a nature reserve inhabited by Arabian leopards and falcons. Tourists will be able to visit the World Heritage-designated ruins of Madain Saleh as well as experiencing parachuting, trekking and rock climbing. The protected reefs should prove especially enticing to divers.
However, the country’s severe religious and social codes have hardly proved enticing to tourists. Alcohol, cinemas and theatres are currently prohibited, and women must wear full-length robes known as "abayas" and headscarves in public. Although visa restrictions on foreigners are to be alleviated in the tourist zone, it remains unclear whether dress codes and other restrictions will be relaxed. Saudi Arabia already plays host to millions of foreigners for work and the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.