Saudi Arabia welcomes travelers -- sort of

The conservative Muslim kingdom says it will issue tourist visas for the first time.

By J.A. Getzlaff
Published April 12, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

The latest fluctuations in the price of oil have again reminded Saudi Arabia just how dependent its economy is on the "black gold." So in an attempt to develop another source of income, the world's largest oil producer has decided to issue tourist visas for the first time ever.

According to a recent BBC report, the Saudi government has approved new rules for tourism visas. Until now, the only outsiders allowed into the conservative Muslim kingdom have been businessmen, foreigners who have relatives living in the country and Muslim pilgrims from any of six Arab Gulf states.

Does this mean you can throw some T-shirts in a duffel bag and book your ticket? Certainly not. Visas will be granted only to those who promise to stick to Saudi rules -- no bare skin and no alcohol, for starters. And you better like group travel because if you're allowed in, you'll be shuffled to Saudi-chosen "historic and tourist places" by a Saudi-run tour company. At the end of each fun-filled day of government-approved sightseeing, you'll be allowed to retire to your room.

If you're wondering why you'd ever want to visit a place that forbids umbrella drinks, think the Red Sea. Diving enthusiasts know it as one of the top diving destinations in the world, featuring clear, bath-warm water teeming with marine life. Desert safaris are another exotic option, and the green mountains of Asir province, a Saudi vacation resort, don't sound too bad, either.

So pack your bags Puritan style, bone up on Islamic customs and apply for a visa.

J.A. Getzlaff

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