Wednesday, April 27, 2016
The Saudi Transformation
So the other day came the big announcement from the Saudi Government that people in the region were waiting for, the ambitious overhaul of their economy to get rid of their heavy dependence on oil. It’s a long-term plan up until 2030, but the Prince said that it could take as little as four years to get rid of Saudi Arabia’s oil dependence.
I don’t have all of the details but some industry privatization is in the plan, notably selling a small stake of Aramco, the creation of a US $2 trillion (yes, trillion) sovereign wealth fund, and huge development in non-oil industries. It’s seems to be a really, really ambitious plan and those timescales seem a bit unrealistic but something does need to be done, the last couple of years of low oil prices has shown the Saudi Government the dangers of oil dependence. I believe the Government is burning through $9-10 billion of their own cash reserves every month now due to the lack of oil revenue.
There is one development that I’m looking forward to – tourism! The Government plans to spend on tourism infrastructure and thus allow more non-pilgrim tourists to visit the country. I’d certainly go. All the years I’ve been in the Gulf living right next to Saudi Arabia and yet I haven’t visited it. I’m not even sure at the moment you can get a non-pilgrim tourist visa to visit the country. If they allow more tourist visas and let non-Muslims wander around the country (obviously not to Mecca and Medina, there’s no way the country will let that happen) there’s a number of places I’d like to see – the Nabatean ruins in the north, Jeddah and Taif, some of the mountains around the Riyadh plateau, maybe even the dunes in the south.
Some news articles are already slamming the idea. The argument sums up as, “No booze or bikinis, why would anyone go?” I think that’s not a good way of looking at it, people should look at it as more of an exotic adventure rather than yet another all-inclusive drinks & beach holiday resort. In fact I hope the Saudis don’t go that route. There’s plenty of places in the Mediterranean if resort vacations are your thing.
If they make reforms right away I might plan a trip in 2017.