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 Intrepid Travel has introduced a 12-day Saudi Arabia Women’s  Expedition, designed to offer an authentic and transformative travel experience while  empowering women and supporting female-owned businesses in the destination.

The tour will be exclusively led by female leaders and guides, aiming to showcase a different  side of the country beyond the luxury resorts and high-end offerings. Starting in Riyadh and  finishing in Jeddah, groups will stay in a female-owned boutique hotel, heritage property and  desert camp, directly supporting a total of nine female-owned and operated businesses.

Experiences include a sunrise visit to the Nabataean site of Hegra guided by a local ‘rawee’  or storyteller, and the opportunity to meet two sisters running a local citrus farm near Alula to  sample their produce over lunch. Travellers will also visit Madinah – the second holiest site in Islam, after Mecca – with a local female guide.

With an itinerary designed to open dialogue and foster connection between women from  vastly different backgrounds, the trip features several visits to women’s homes and female only spaces, putting equal focus on the host communities as it does the travellers.

Intrepid has developed this trip independently and is proud to partner with a female-owned  local operator run by Sara Omar, a Saudi mother of two and passionate traveller, to bring this  trip to life.

Omar said travellers to Saudi often arrive with misconceptions about the country. “A lot of  people think Saudi women are unable to do anything, that we’re not educated, that we don’t  work. Meeting the locals is the best way to understand what the lifestyle is really like,” she said.

While Saudi remains an extremely conservative society, ranking low in the World Economic  Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, women have acquired certain freedoms in recent years.  With women now representing 30% of the tourism and hospitality workforce, Intrepid felt  there was an opportunity to create a product that would both allow travellers to see the  country through the eyes of local women and support efforts towards female empowerment.

Jenny Gray, product manager for Women’s Expeditions, said: “This new trip has been a year  in the making, as we challenged ourselves to create a trip in Saudi in line with our values that would be a genuine force for good.”

Gray added: “With tourism to Saudi focused on vast ultra-luxury offerings, we wanted to  balance that by creating something completely unique in Saudi Arabia: a trip putting local  women’s voices centre stage. With activities like joining a cooking class with a local female  chef and getting pampered at a women-owned salon, the trip will give our travellers the  chance to see a side of Saudi few get to experience.”

Zina Bencheikh, managing director EMEA, who has recently visited Saudi and whose team  will oversee operations, said: “We know that for some travellers, the decision as to whether  to visit Saudi Arabia, as it transitions to a more moderate society, is not an easy one.  However, we strongly believe that travel, when done right, can be a positive force for change. It connects people, broadens perspectives, and builds empathy. Travel allows us to  learn about lives very different to ours.”

She added: “On my own visit, I met many women who were embracing the changes in their  society. They were excited to begin their careers in travel and welcome people to their  country. By launching our Women’s Expedition, we hope to create opportunities for those  women to push boundaries and drive meaningful change, for themselves and future  generations.”

A limited run of five departures, each with a maximum of 12 travellers, will start on 26  November 2024. The 12-day trip will start at $8795AUD.

Highlights include: 

  • Visit Madinah – the second holiest site in Islam, after Mecca – with a local female  guide. Non-Muslims have recently been allowed to visit the holy site up to the  perimeter
  • Take a sunrise visit to the Nabataean site of Hegra, the southern capital of the  Nabataean kingdom, guided by a local ‘rawee’ or storyteller
  • Take a bullet train to Jeddah and explore Al Balad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  with Saudi’s first female guide
  • Head to a female-owned, female-only salon for a spot of pampering. Chat to the  locals and learn how these types of businesses have created opportunities for the  women who live here
  •  Meet two sisters running a local citrus farm near Alula, sample their produce and  have lunch under the trees
  •  Visit an abeya shop to learn how women are modernising this staple piece  – Jump on a boat and cruise the Red Sea, snorkel, swim, and enjoy a barbeque lunch  before ending the day on a private female only beach.

The Women’s Expedition product range launched in 2018 with the aim of breaking down the  cultural barriers of traditional tourism with all-female adventures. These tours are all about  fostering discussion and creating immersive local experiences for women, that wouldn’t be  possible in mixed gender groups. With the addition of Saudi Arabia, the product range will  now feature seven itineraries including Morocco, Pakistan, Nepal and India.