Saudi Arabia, a country known for its strict Islamic laws, has updated its tourism website to indicate that the country welcomes LGBTQ tourists. While this move is seen as a positive step towards inclusivity, it is also raising concerns about the safety of LGBTQ travelers in the country.
According to the frequently asked questions section on the Saudi Tourism Authority’s (STA) website, “Everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia, and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details.” However, Human Rights Watch reports that same-sex sexual behavior is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and the Human Dignity Trust, an international organization fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, claims that transgender persons in Saudi Arabia risk the possibility of prosecution due to “substantial evidence of the law being enforced” and “consistent reports of discrimination and violence” against the LGBTQ+ community.
While the LGBTQ+ travel sector is known to be lucrative, with LGBTQ tourists spending more money and traveling more often than heterosexual couples, it remains to be seen if they would feel safe visiting Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia will most likely be a harder sell until greater guarantees are issued by the government.
LGBTQ+ visitors often have to hide their true self because of the uncertainty and possible dangers. Any items or data that may indicate a person being LBGTQ+ is often not taken into Saudi Arabia.
While Saudi Arabia may be a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ travelers, the need for guarantees of safety and comfort for guests is not yet guaranteed. The government has to figure out how to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ tourists and invest in marketing to LGBTQ+ communities and enacting local reforms to LGBTQ+ rights.
We all know that the reason destinations are welcoming tourists now is because they think that is their future income stream. This is good, because if it is good for business, it might drive changes in equality law. Without travel and tourists coming to the destinations, mindsets would never change.
While the STA spokeswoman stated that “everyone is welcome to visit Saudi, provided that they follow and respect our culture, traditions, and laws, as you would when visiting any other country in the world,” it is important to note that LGBTQ+ travelers may face risks due to the country’s strict laws and societal norms. Until there are greater assurances of safety and inclusivity, it may be difficult to attract LGBTQ tourists to Saudi Arabia.