Virgin boss Richard Branson is set to invest in a tourism project in Saudi Arabia, as the kingdom attempts to shed its stuffy image.
Virgin boss Richard Branson is ready to invest in a Red Sea tourism project in Saudi Arabia, the government announced on Sunday.
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Branson will be the first international investor to publicly commit to a project aimed at turning 50 islands of Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast into luxury tourism destinations.
Officials said it is "a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism". Branson also visited the tombs at Madain Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site located near the location of Virgin's latest enterprise.
"This is an incredibly exciting time in the country's history and I've always felt that there's nothing like getting a first-hand impression," Branson said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries in the world, but it is looking to reshape its image under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom's ambitious Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy, partly through opening up to tourism and entertainment.
In August, Saudi Arabia announced plans to turn 34,000 square kilometres (13,127 square miles) of its Red Sea coastline into luxury resorts with the aim of attracting tourists from across the world.
This is despite strict social laws and norms on women's dress and alcohol.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment into the Red Sea project, with construction slated to start in 2019.
The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs, according to official reports.
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