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Saudi Arabia allows foreign men and women to share hotel rooms amid new tourism drive

Saudi launched a new tourism drive last month [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 October, 2019

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Saudi authorities have broken with decades of tradition by allowing foreign men and women to share hotel rooms, amid a new drive for tourism in the ultraconservative kingdom.
Foreign men and women visiting Saudi Arabia will now be allowed to share a hotel room together, authorities in Riyadh announced, amid a new drive to attract tourism to the ultraconservative kingdom.

The move excludes Saudi nationals, who are obliged to show proof of their relationship, though Saudi women are now permitted to rent hotel rooms by themselves, in a break with previous regulations.

“All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels. This is not required of foreign tourists. All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in,” the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage confirmed a report on Friday by Arabic-language newspaper Okaz.

The ultraconservative kingdom, where sex outside of marriage is banned, has been relatively closed off for decades.

But last month, Riyadh announced it will be offering tourist visas for the first time, opening up the ultra-conservative kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

Read more: Visiting Saudi Arabia? 19 things that are illegal for tourists

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

The announcement came just two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure - blamed by Washington on Iran - which roiled global energy markets and raised fears of a wider regional conflict.

But the austere kingdom, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, is seen by many as a hard sell for tourists.

Prince Mohammed is seeking to change that through a sweeping liberalisation drive that has brought new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia.

International criticism of the kingdom's human rights record, including the gruesome murder last year of critic Jamal Khashoggi and a crackdown on female activists, could further put off foreign visitors, observers say.

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