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Never mind the head-choppers: Who wants to go on holiday to Saudi Arabia? Open in fullscreen

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Never mind the head-choppers: Who wants to go on holiday to Saudi Arabia?

The huge Red Sea resort will offer coral reef diving [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 August, 2017

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Saudi Arabia has unveiled an ambitious plan to develop its Red Sea coastline into a resort the size of Belgium in a bid to boost its non-oil economy.
Saudi Arabia is known for plenty of sun but not much fun.

Nevertheless, it has unveiled ambitious plans to transform its Red Sea coastline into a world-class tourist destination.

As Riyadh faces a huge challenge to combat the economic slowdown caused by low oil prices, it hopes a major tourism boost could turn around the economy and reduce its reliance on oil.

The Red Sea Project, to be built between the cities of Amlaj and al-Jawh, will offer heritage sites and a nature reserve, as well as diving among coral reefs, the state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday.

It will break ground in late 2019 and its first phase is scheduled to be complete by 2023.

The project is set to cover 50 islands and 34,000 square kilometers - an area larger than Belgium - to attract "luxury travellers from around the globe".

But is there a market for foreign tourists seeking to leave their working-week stresses behind and get a tan in a country where strict dress codes and a ban on alcohol, gender mixing and women drivers apply?

The resort will be governed by laws "on par with international standards", according to a statement posted on a Twitter page dedicated to the project.

Tourists will either not require a visa or will be able to obtain one online. One of the documents referred to the project as a "semi-autonomous" area governed "by independent laws and a regulatory framework developed and managed by a private committee" - a sign that it could ease strict rules applied elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, an ultra-conservative absolute monarchy.

The kingdom's Public Investment Fund
 will make initial investments in the project and seek partnerships with international investors and hoteliers, the statement said, without elaborating on the cost of the project.

The fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is believed to have assets totalling about $183 billion and is set to receive a huge cash infusion next year after the share sale of state oil giant Saudi Aramco.

The crown prince has said more than half of the proceeds from that sale would be reinvested domestically to develop promising Saudi non-oil sectors.

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