Saudi Arabia allows tourists men, women to share hotel rooms
A week after Saudi Arabia welcomed tourists for the first time, the conservative Muslim Kingdom has clarified that foreign men and women will be allowed to rent hotel rooms together, without needing to prove that they are related. The move comes as a surprise as Saudi Arabia is infamous for its rigid sex segregation and also prohibiting all sex outside of marriage. Here's more.
According to Reuters, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage confirmed a report on Friday by Arabic-language newspaper Okaz, saying: "All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels. This is not required of foreign tourists." SCTH added, "All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in."
In fact, last week, Saudi announced that it would start issuing tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries, including 38 European countries, 7 Asian countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Previously, the Gulf nation had restricted foreigners visiting to resident workers and their dependents, business travelers, and Muslim pilgrims, who are issued special visas allowing them to visit Mecca and Medina.
Saudi's push for tourism comes as it aims to diversify its economy from oil exports under the Vision 2030 program. Reportedly, authorities are hoping for an influx of 100 million annual tourists by 2030. However, Saudi recently also announced fines on tourists for 19 offenses-dressing immodestly, public displays of affection, etc- in keeping with its conservative image. Alcohol also remains banned.
Even with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's social reform agenda, travel influencers posting about Saudi are facing public backlash. Influencers presenting a tourist-friendly image of the conservative nation are being criticized for running propaganda and glossing over the many controversial happenings in Saudi, including discrimination against women and the killing of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year.
Importantly, it was only in August this year that women in Saudi were allowed to travel abroad without a male guardian. Saudi's male-guardianship system mandates male relatives to make critical decisions for women. Additionally, until last year, women in Saudi were banned from driving.