When you think of gay-friendly destinations, New York, San Francisco, the Netherlands and other such places come to mind. Now, in an effort to make to make the country palatable, the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) says LGBT+ tourists are welcome.
In the FAQ section of STA’S website, somebody inquired whether or not LGBT+ visitors were welcome in Saudi Arabia. The response was: “everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia, and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details.”
This Announcement Doesn’t Align With The Country’s Conservatism
Quite understandably, the gay community won’t find this announcement reassuring. Historically, Saudi Arabia has not taken kindly to non-heterosexual sex. Over the years, there have been distressing stories of gay Saudis facing arrest, torture or worse.
The aversion to the gay community is so overwhelming, that Saudi Arabian authorities raided a shop selling rainbow-colored items last year. By way of explanation, one official told the BBC, “the items contradict the Islamic faith and public morals, and promote homosexual colors targeting the younger generation”.
The Human Dignity Trust, a pro-gay organization, notes “consistent reports of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people.”
The organization adds, “Saudi Arabia criminalizes same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalized.”
Bolstering Tourism In Saudi Arabia Is The Goal
Gay travel is a lucrative part of the tourism industry, so it makes sense that STA is trying to tap into that.
CNN Travel writes, “[gay couples] spend more money in a destination than heterosexual couples, and tend to travel more times a year.”
But, Darren Burn, CEO of Out of Office, has his reservations about STA’s announcement.
“It’s pretty vague,” he told CNN, “and it doesn’t offer the assurances that would make me feel able to send our clients safely to the destination. But my concern is what the reality is like in the destination. Are they saying that a same-sex couple can check into a hotel and get a double bed without any issues? My hunch would be that that’s not the reality.”
With all that in mind, should you go to Saudi Arabia as an LGBT+ person? Well, that depends. For certain, there are far more gay-friendly destinations out there. But if you do venture to Saudi Arabia, familiarize yourself with the customs, and err on the side of caution.