Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, December 9, 2013
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have announced plans to spend around £5.5bn turning a beach on its east coast into a modern tourist resort.
According to Arab News, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), hopes to transform the Al Uqair area, near the country’s borders with Qatar and Bahrain, into a popular holiday destination.
The project would see around $4.5 billion (£2.75bn) invested in developing the beach and a similar amount used for general improvements to the infrastructure of the surrounding area.
The work would be completed by 2017, SCTA said, and around 37,700 direct jobs, and 56,000 seasonal jobs, would be created. In an artist’s rendering of the project published by Arab News, the resort would appear to boast a marina, greenery, and extensive accommodation options.
Fahar Al Judair, the region’s mayor, said Al Uqair’s beaches, deserts and oases, as well as its cultural monuments, would attract tourists, while Al Ahsa Airport, around 40 miles to the south-west, is preparing to launch its first international routes.
The plans come just days after SCTA announced plans to offer visa-free entry to tourists from 65 countries. Currently only tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – can enter the country without applying for a visa in advance. It is unclear which countries would be included in the scheme, and SCTA could not be reached for comment.
According to the Foreign Office, “all visitors, including pilgrims, require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia”. It warns that “public demonstrations are illegal”, “standards of driving are poor”, and that “there is a general threat from terrorism”.
Lonely Planet describes Saudi Arabia as “one of the most difficult places in the world to visit.”
“Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months, and women under 30 years old must be accompanied by their husband or brother (who must also arrive and leave Saudi Arabia at the same time),” it adds. “Men and women are only allowed to travel together (and granted a visa to do so) if they are (a) married (with an official marriage licence) or (b) form part of a group. It is not permitted for an unmarried couple to travel alone together in Saudi Arabia (and doing so runs the risk of apprehension).”