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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Saudi Arabia targets tourists
saudi
Long way to go: Saudis have ignored tourism
By Frank Gardner in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has appointed a former Saudi astronaut as head of the country's new tourism authority, in an attempt to diversify its income away from oil.

Prince Sultan Bin Salman al-Sa'ud, 44, was the first Arab into space, on board an American space shuttle.


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Open market: $7bn has reportedly been invested in tourism
And while Saudi Arabia may not be most people's first choice of a holiday destination - unless you are a citizen of the Gulf Arab states, you are unlikely to be given a tourist visa - last year's low oil prices convinced Saudi reformers like Crown Prince Abdullah, that the country's economy must be diversified.

In April, a tourism authority was established to regulate the industry.

The Saudi business community, which has welcomed Prince Sultan's appointment, has reportedly already invested nearly $7bn in the tourism industry here.

Millions of Saudis are now taking their summer holidays at home, mainly in the cool, green mountains near the Yemeni border.

No hitch-hikers

But the questions on the minds of international travel agents are "when will Europeans and other non-Arabs be given tourist visas?" and "what is there for them to do here?"

For the last few years, there have been a small number of escorted western tour groups discreetly coming to the kingdom.

They visit the archaeological ruins in the desert, tour the bazaars of Jeddah and ride cable-cars through lush mountain valleys.

Now the authorities are poised to open the door a little wider, ushering in rock climbers, mountain bikers and eco-tourists.

But this will be tourism on Saudi terms - no hitch-hikers, no gamblers and definitely no hidden bottles of forbidden alcohol.

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04 Apr 00 | Middle East
Saudi moves to welcome tourists
26 Aug 98 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia imposes pilgrimage limit
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