Location: Middle East
Written By: Serean Bechara
As an Arab woman myself, I’m no stranger to the ongoing universal human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Travel and tourism regulations in the country have been fairly in-line with its non-secular laws over the years.
For a quick overview, Saudi Arabia has previously been very restrictive on who can travel into the country, and what the purpose of travel must be. This usually entailed travelling for business reasons, visiting family, for religious pilgrimages, or of course if you’re there as part of a government entity.
Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has opened up Saudi Arabia to industry moguls and entertainment celebrities including BTS and Mariah Carey.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of loosening up restrictions on who can travel and how they must dress and behave in the country. Before, you couldn’t share a hotel room with someone of a different gender if you were not married, but now you can.
This is a huge change for many couples who have had to settle on getting different rooms and paying extra to do so.
Another big change? The dress code. If you don’t know, it’s very important to be respectful and modest in Saudi Arabia so the dress code is to remain covered at all times. This basically means no shoulders, no thighs, and definitely no cleavage showing.
Yet here we are in October 2019 and Saudi Arabia has decided to loosen up the law a bit so that tourists just visiting the country do not have to worry about accidentally offending anyone with their wardrobe (or getting arrested for it).
So no more Abaayas for you unless you choose to because it’s easier, keeps you cool, and they can be quite pretty.
However, most notably, women who are travelling alone can do so without restrictions.
On September 28, 2019 they had released a new Visa allowing tourists to travel for leisure purposes.
Why is Saudi Arabia in the centre of an international controversy with social media influencers? Why did Nicki Minaj decide to cancel her concert in Saudi Arabia? Well, where do we start?
Let’s jump right into it…
Saudi Arabia’s tourism board along with Gateway KSA have gifted influencers with free trips to the country to spread positive word-of-mouth and do public relations on their behalf to millions of people around the world.
Some of these influencers include Lana Rose, Tara Whiteman and Alyssa Bossio from Instagram, and Caspar Lee and Daniel Supertramp from YouTube.
They posted etherial, luxurious, and seemingly peaceful images on social media with the hashtag #WelcomeToArabia with @VisitSaudi.
So while we have images like the ones above and below being shared, there are people all over the country who have been, and who will continue to be scrutinized, arrested, and threatened for their freedom of speech.
A travel blogger by the name of Travellingjezebel wrote,
“While the biggest travel bloggers & influencers in the industry are taking money from the Saudi government to showcase the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a good light, let us take a moment to remember how SAUDI bloggers are treated.”
She then discusses Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for talking about religious freedom and women’s rights.
“For a blogger to take money from a government that locks up and tortures its own bloggers and journalists (Raif is not the only one by a long way), it is shameful. Just remember people like Raif when you see these influencers’ glamorous pictures. #WelcomeToArabia”
These social media influencers are facing backlash for accepting these trips, that by the way, have very specific itineraries they cannot deviate from. So, how will tourism to Saudi Arabia shift with these new changes? Is it ethical to visit the country for leisure while promoting its natural beauty and glossing over the pain of their people?
The LGBTQ+ community still lives in fear in Saudi Arabia, and most women still feel unsafe. It’s interesting how some people look to distinguish between visiting a country and supporting the government of that country by doing so.
A notable example was Demi Lovato facing backlash for going on a spiritual trip to Israel without addressing the Palestian struggle and continued conflict.
Can you really separate your ethics and morals with the country you choose to tour to?
For Saudi Arabia, is it just too intertwined?
Or do you think that this is an opportunity for change?
Could this begin to normalize secular beliefs and action in the country if there are more people who are allowed to do so?
If you have any questions, comments, or if there’s anything else you think I should cover, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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