In an attempt to reduce economic dependence on oil and boost its tourism revenue, Saudi Arabia is opening its doors wide to international tourists. Starting Saturday, the country will be relaxing its strict dress codes for female tourists and launching visa programs for 49 countries. Until now, visas have been mostly reserved for Muslim pilgrimages, people on business, and expat workers.
As reported by the BBC, Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said, “Visitors will be surprised…by the treasures we have to share — five Unesco World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.” Mada’in Saleh, an archaeological site similar to Petra located in the northwest of the country, is certainly a treasure travelers will be happy to be able to finally see.
According to the new rules regarding tourists in the country, foreign women will not be required to wear abeyyas, the mandatory body-covering robes that Saudi women wear, but will still need to dress “modestly.” And while there had been laws against unaccompanied women entering the country, those restrictions will now be relaxed.
If you were hoping to visit Saudi Arabia’s holy cities, however, you’ll still be out of luck — only Muslims will be permitted to enter Mecca and Medina. The ban on alcohol will also remain in effect.