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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2008, 18:06 GMT
Saudis open hotel for women only
A Saudi woman attends the opening ceremony of the Luthan Hotel & Spa in the Saudi capital Riyadh
The hotel said the response from the public had been overwhelming
The Middle East's first women-only hotel has opened in Saudi Arabia.

It will cater primarily to businesswomen, who work completely covered from head to toe in public and have to observe strict segregation.

The hotel, in Riyadh, has 25 rooms and boasts fine dining and conference facilities, as well as a range of health and beauty treatments.

Its executive director said the response to the idea of a hotel just for women had been overwhelming.

The Luthan Hotel & Spa is owned by a group of 20 Saudi princesses and businesswomen.

It hopes to attract expatriates from the nearby diplomatic quarter as well as local women.

Inauguration

It is the first spa hotel in the kingdom available to women all the time - pools in other hotels are only open to women on certain fixed days or hours.

We are women-owned, women-managed and women-run
Lorraine Coutinho, executive director, Luthan Hotel & Spa

Saudi Arabia, where the doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism is applied, strictly enforces the separation of the sexes in public.

Women are prevented from mixing with men other than relatives, from driving cars and from employment in many jobs. They are required to cover themselves in Islamic dress when in public.

Our correspondent Frances Harrison says it is a huge bonus that inside the hotel they can move around uncovered as if they were at home.

Luthan Hotel & Spa executive director Lorraine Coutinho said: "Inside this physical structure, we are all women. We even have bell-women. We are women-owned, women-managed and women-run."

The inauguration of the hotel was attended by Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, secretary general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism.

Saudi tourism officials who attended the launch have encouraged other women to invest in similar hotels across the kingdom.



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