A land whose reputation is viewed through its harsh climate...
For millennia there was a natural barrier to visiting Saudi: its tough climate. Although some routes along the Sarawat Mountains along the western coast offer some slightly cooler temperatures, the lack of water and vegetation made any journey through the immense extends of rocks and sand a life-threatening experience.
But the risks of traveling until Makkah didn't deter some fervent Muslim who did the perilous trip to perform Hajj. In the early 8th century, one attempt remained even in History as it nearly costed the life of the Abbasid princess, Zubaydah bint Ja'far, granddaughter of caliph Abu Ja'far al-Mansur and a wife of caliph Abu Ja'far Harun al-Rashid. Her endeavor to reach Mekkah from Kufa in today's Iraq was such a harsh experience that she later put a lot of efforts to build a series of wells, cisterns, and shelters for every day of travel of Muslim pilgrims, meaning 20 kilometers. Those basic infrastructures are still visible today and mark the road that carries her name, the Darb Zubaydah.
... that has already welcomed millions of foreigners...
This particular climatic conditions have kept people away from this land for millennia hence locals have lived apart of the world's main events for long. But when oil was discovered in 1938 Saudi Arabia suddenly needed substantial workforce and skills from abroad to ensure its economical development. As a result the expatriate population became more numerous than the national one and it remained as such for decades. In 2016 the proportion of expatriates was still one third of the total population of the Kingdom, with 21.1 million Saudi nationals for 10.4 million expatriates.
In addition, the land of Arabia has seen for nearly 1 500 years millions of Muslims heading towards Mekkah to perform Umrah or Hajj. In the last decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been home of what became the largest pilgrimage in the world, welcoming some 1,5 million foreign pilgrims for Hajj every year.
... and that is opening to foreign tourists
In April 2016 Prince Sultan bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia has plans to issue select visas to welcome tens of thousands of tourists a year as part of a sweeping national reform plan aimed at showcasing the country's rich heritage, including pre-Islamic sites, and encouraging Saudis to spend some of their tourist money at home. Prince Sultan bin Salman, who is head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the oldest living son of King Salman, said that while the country will be opening up.
It is open for people that are doing business, for people working in Saudi Arabia, investing in Saudi Arabia, and people who are visiting for special purposes. And now it will be open for tourism again on a selected basis
A land whose reputation is viewed through its harsh climate that has already welcome dozens of millions of foreigners and that is opening to foreign tourists (author: Florent Egal)