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The New Face of Saudi Arabian Tourism: 150 Women Have Applied for Tour Guide Permits

Dr. Nadia Qurban, the first woman to receive a tour guide license in Jeddah

In February 2018, Maryam Al-Harbi was named Best Tourist Guide for 2017 by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). Known as Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female tour guide, Al-Harbi was honoured with the title due to her work, dedication, and skills in making the Kingdom more accessible to visitors. Almost a year on and an increasing number of Saudi Arabian women are following in Al-Harbi’s footsteps, with a staggering 150 women having already applied for tour guide licenses to date.

According to Saudi Gazette, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) will begin issuing tourist guide licenses this month to qualified Saudi women. Sattam Al-Balawi, chairman of the Saudi Arabian society for tourist guides, explained that the commission has already taken practical steps towards issuing licenses to interested applicants, and that the first training sessions qualifying women to get licenses was already held in the northwestern city of Tabuk.

Tabuk Region, Saudi Arabia
Speaking to the news site, Abeer Abu Solaiman, a female tourist guide, explained that the current environment for women looking to join the tourism sector is more conducive than when she started her profession back in 2011. Solaiman, who established a group named the "Heart of Historic Jeddah" to revive the architectural heritage of the city’s downtown, explained that she depended entirely on her personal efforts to build her skills. Today, with the support of the Saudi government, determined and passionate women like Solaiman – who, between the period between 2011 and 2015, single-handedly provided free tours for more than 12,000 visitors – will have a smoother and more professional experience as guides once official licenses are issued.

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is set to expand in the coming months as the Kingdom continues its efforts in developing its archaeological and natural sites, as well as build new tourism-centric projects. In addition, the SCTH is working on giving licenses to private museums across the country, and Saudi Arabia is also working on the rules and regulations of its eVisa, which will allow people from around the world to visit the Kingdom specifically for tourism purposes.

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