Why Saudis vacation abroad

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Over the past two decades, the Kingdom has come a long way in developing its tourism industry. And spurred by Vision 2030, such developments seem to know no bounds. Plans for mega entertainment cities and places of interest and the development of our heritage sites for easy access to visitors make it a formidable choice when people are deciding where to spend their summer holidays.

With the summer holidays for schoolchildren in full swing, hundreds of thousands of families are busily preparing for a holiday somewhere or the other. To understand the draw of overseas tourism in this country, one has to come to grips with what it is that drives most families to foreign destinations. Is it the summer heat, the exotic attractions, or just what?

I caught up with a few individuals who have booked plans for a vacation abroad. Shukri, a professor at King Abdul Aziz University, is flying off to Malaysia with his family. This is not the first time for him and his family to the same destination. He finds the country comfortable, the people friendly, the prices just right, and many outlets of entertainment for his growing children. When asked why he did not choose a domestic destination, he quickly responded, “What domestic destination? Granted they are all plans on paper now, but they are not ready to accommodate us.”

Faisal, a municipal worker, is off to Egypt. “I like Egypt for it’s variety, its friendliness, and for the bottom line that I do not have to go into debt if my family and I want to escape somewhere for a month or so. Tell me where you can find such places here? My children are interested in history, and Egypt’s ancient civilization and historical artifacts offer them a chance to witness them firsthand. Where are our historical quarters? How easy is it to access them? What has been done to preserve them? As far as I know, nothing!”

Salma, a housewife from Taif, had this to say. “During my childhood, I remember my father packing off the whole family to the hilly resorts of Abha and Sawda. Even during the hottest period of the year, we would enjoy the cool morning mist as we camped on the hillside. But go to them today. There’s hardly any area that’s not walled off and restricted to visitors. And in the few places available, facilities are not up to bearable standards while prices for accommodations are atrocious. That is precisely why my family and I are escaping to Switzerland, although for a short two weeks because it is expensive.”

Muneer, an architect, is off to Cape Town in South Africa with his family. “We love the water, the beaches, the crashing of the waves. Cape Town has it all including good weather, fair prices and a lot of attractions to keep my children amused. And the people are genuinely friendly to tourists. What more could I want?”

Zuhair, a university student, agreed. “Yes, we do have hundreds of miles of coastline both in the east and west of this country,” he said. “But are they open to the public? Miles and miles of walls and barriers prevent the general public from even knowing that water exists on the other side. And for the price that I would have to fork out in one of those private beach resorts for a week here, I could easily manage a much longer period in Cape Town. And that’s including airfare for my entire family!”

Leila, a university student in Jeddah, had this to say. “I’m off to Paris with my family. Why? Because when I go to a café or to the Champs Elysees, I can do it on my own without fear, or hassles or retribution. Because I love art, and Paris is a city of the arts. And I enjoy the variety of people from everywhere, all minding their own business as they meander through the city. And the cuisine...Par excellence.”

Friendliness, facilities, places of historical and general interest, and prices seem to be the overriding factors. Give people what they want and watch them flock to it as evidenced by recent entertainment events. They will simply not stick to domestic destinations out of patriotic duty.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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