Saudi Arabia to launch Red Sea tourism resorts

A massive Saudi tourism project will cover more than 180 kilometres of coastline stretching from Umm Lajj to Al-Wajh, where two men are seen here at a cafe overlooking the Red Sea (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ALHWAITY)

Riyadh (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced the launch of a massive tourism project that will turn 50 islands and a string of sites on the Red Sea coast into luxury resorts.

The plan is part of efforts to diversify the ultraconservative kingdom's oil-dependent economy following a slump in energy prices.

It covers more than 180 kilometres (112 miles) on Saudi Arabia's western coastline, stretching from Umm Lajj to Al-Wajh.

Initial investments will be provided by the Public Investment Fund before the project is opened to international investors, state news agency SPA reported.

Construction will begin in the third quarter of 2019 with a first phase that includes expanding a domestic airport and developing luxury hotels and housing, expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2022, it said.

Saudi Arabia aims to increase family spending on recreation and launch hundreds of recreation centres across the kingdom by 2020 as part of its Vision 2030 plan to reduce its dependence on oil.

Alcohol, cinemas and theatres are banned in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy and one of the world's most conservative countries.

Under its notorious guardianship system, Saudi Arabia also has severe restrictions on women, who are expected to cover from head to toe when in public.

They are banned from driving and cannot travel, study or work without written permission from a husband or male relative.

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