Saudi Arabia has relaxed it’s laws on unmarried couples sharing hotel rooms, as part of the ultra-conservative Islamic Kingdom’s new visa drive.
Women will also be able to stay unaccompanied in hotels, the BBC reports, as the strict, religious state makes moves to boost tourism opportunities.
The new leader of the Kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, caused national consternation among the conservative members of the Saudi government when he began to radically change entrenched laws concerning women.
However, these positive changes have been marred by the recent murder of respected journalist and activist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi’s strict laws
Previously, women have been required to travel with a male escort – and also prove that they are married if planning to share a hotel room. The rules have been relaxed for forgeiners only – not native Saudi citizens or residents.
Saudi Arabia has a large expat population made up of Western, Asian and Sub continental workers. The rules will only apply to visitors entering the country on a specific tourism or short stay visa.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage released a statement detailing the new rule change. “All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels,” it stated. “This is not required of foreign tourists. All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in.”
Another rule relaxation also states that women visiting the country on the tourism visa are not required to cover up in an abaya while in public. While there is a dress code to be adhered to, wearing the traditional, black over-garment will no longer be mandatory.
Saudi Arabia has made impressive strides forward in the areas of female empowerment in recent months. Women were finally allowed to drive legally on the roads, after directives from the former king forbade it.
Progress in growing tourism
However, despite the new and somewhat radical changes, alcohol will remain a banned substance in Saudi Arabia.
Travel industry leaders have hailed the new easing of rules as a new start for Saudi Arabia’s travel industry. Previously, travel to the Kingdom has been restrictive and difficult, with lots of beaurocracy involved.
It is expected that the move will increase the number of short term tourism visas being applied for to Saudi – and that the Saudi tourism industry will experience a sudden surge – especially from business travellers in the region and beyond.
However, Saudi’s biggest influx of visitors occur once a year during the Hajj – which takes place in the holy cities of Makkah and Medinah. Only Muslims are able to enter these cities at any time. Different religious denominations are strictly forbidden from entering.