The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Vacation Time 

As I indicated earlier, I will be going on vacation with the family shortly. Today will be my last day of blogging. I will resume, Inshallah, in late July.

There was a vey timely article yesterday about tourism in Saudi Arabia.

Commission Hopes for 7% Growth in Tourism

RIYADH, 21 June 2004 — The Supreme Commission for Tourism says it is undeterred by “sporadic” terror attacks in the Kingdom and will press ahead with plans to achieve seven percent growth in domestic tourism.

In any other country, this would be an article about trying to attract more foreign tourists, and the difficulties posed to this by terrorist attacks. However the subtext here is that the government is trying to make more Saudis take vacations in Saudi Arabia, and not spend their currency abroad. It long since gave up on the idea of attracting tourists from outside.

Earlier the commission had said it was targeting international tourism, but that appears to have been put on the backburner.

Prince Abdul Aziz sought to allay fears of more terror attacks, while stressing tourism plans would remain unaffected by the violence.

SCT officials said they were hopeful Saudi tourists would come to prefer domestic destinations. “The holiday destinations in the Kingdom will continue to appeal more,” the prince said.

As I've said before, the idea of attracting tourists here, apart from pilgrims, is a total nonsense. Yes, we have a few old ruins, but nothing like as good as in Jordan and Egypt. We have excellent diving in the unpolluted Red Sea, but you can dive in the Red Sea from Egypt. We have lots of desert to trek in, but you can do that also from the Emirates or Oman. And we have good shopping, but not as good as Dubai. And overlying all of this is the fact that Saudi Arabia, in spite of the basic friendliness of its people, is so unwelcoming to tourists. Imagine a trip to Orlando where Disneyworld ejected its visitors at regular intervals for prayer time; where the Muttawa, no doubt dressed up as Mickey Mouse, asked to see your marriage certificate; where your wife was forced to dress in black, head-to-toe artificial fabric. The only possible group who might be attracted would be "cultural tourists", but it would definitely be a case of "look but don't photograph", unless one wants to sample the cultural experience of a Saudi Jail.

There are 3 main reasons why we Saudis go abroad, and the Supreme Commission for Tourism can't do a lot about them.

1. The obvious one, particularly for those of us who have spent some time in the West. We like to go somewhere, East or West, where we can enjoy more freedom, where our wives can wear normal clothes, where we can sit on a beach if we wish, have an occasional drink if we wish, and read newspapers without holes on them. We can alight at any airport in any other country of the world, and it's like stepping out of prison.

2. The temperatures at this time of year in Riyadh get up to into the 120's, although the humidity is low. On the coasts, it's the same temperature but with 90% humidity. Normally our life is spent running between the air-conditioned havens of home, office, school or shopping mall. During the school vacations, this is no life for a youngster. They need to be able to run around in the open air, go swimming, climb things, or just hang around. Therefore we seek cooler, but still sunny, climes.

3. The third reason applies to single men only, or those in unsatisfactory marriages. The Emirates is the favorite destination, although sometimes Bahrain suits the requirement. Young ladies fly in from Russia, on 3-month visas, and then head back home on the proceeds. A friend of mine once went to Bahrain with his family, tried to book in at the "Al xxxxx Family Hotel", to be told that they didn't take families, and only rented rooms by the hour! This form of tourism is very popular with young Saudi men, for obvious reasons, they also combine it with "alcohol tourism", although with the obvious limitation that Shakespeare warned against.

Needless to say, the A family are going on vacation for a combination of reasons 1 and 2. And when the children are otherwise occupied, I will close my eyes and dream that I am living in a Saudi Arabia with an elected government, the Four Freedoms, and full equality for women. Holidays are for daydreaming....

If you're going on vacation, have a great time. If you're not, still remember to take it easy.

Ma'a salaama.

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