Saudi Arabia allows single couples to share hotel rooms


(CNN) – Last month, the Saudi government announced the launch of a new tourist visa program, opening the country to mass tourism for the first time.

And now, Saudi Arabia has gone one step further in its quest to encourage international tourists. Single couples will now be able to share rooms while on holiday in the country.

"The Saudi Committee on Tourism and National Heritage has recently adopted new regulations on tourist accommodation," a spokesman for CNN confirmed a report by the Saudi daily Okaz.

Until now, couples had to produce marriage proof before being allowed to share a room. Saudi nationals should do so, but the rules have been relaxed for international visitors.

Foreign women traveling alone will also be able to book rooms for the first time. They will still be expected to dress modestly in accordance with the new visa rules.

Previously, even international women who had pilgrimages to Hajj had to be accompanied by a man – usually a close relative – known as a "mahram", if they were under 45.

Saudi Arabia expects to attract 100 million visitors (international and domestic) annually by 2030, with tourism contributing up to 10% of GDP.

The Arab kingdom is investing billions to build new resorts and theme parks and to promote its archaeological treasures.

However, its poor human rights record, security concerns raised by the recent attacks on its oil industry, and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year – which the kingdom blamed on ruthless government agents – help his ambitions to become an important player in tourism.

Under the new rules, Muslim visitors can make Umrah (a pilgrimage to Mecca taken at any time of the year) on a tourist visa, but special visas for Hajj pilgrims will still be needed.