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Above: Local tour guide Sara Omar


Q: Why have you decided to launch these women-only tours to Saudi Arabia now?

A: We knew that many of our Intrepid travellers were curious about the destination. So from the outset, we felt really strongly that a women’s expedition was the perfect product for this particular destination.

While Saudi is still quite conservative, the country has been going through a series of changes. Women now make up around 30% of the work force, including in travel, where 30% of the tour guides are women.

So this women’s expedition, as with all of our expeditions, creates opportunities for local female leaders and guides as well as supporting female owned and operated businesses across our supply chain.

Q: I believe this tour was a year in the making. Why did it take so long?

A: We really wanted to make sure that we got this right and that we could deliver a trip that was true to our values and our ethos as well.

We challenged ourselves to create a trip that would give our customers something that was unique, authentic and had a really positive impact on local communities.

So as part of that it was incredibly important that whoever operated the tour for us on the ground understood our style of travel and shared that ethos as well, genuinely believing that travel could be a force for good.

Q: That’s why you’ve partnered with local tour operator Sara Omar.

A: We’re very lucky to have found Sara. She’s a young mother of two who has travelled extensively to about 70 countries.

She started her own travel company with the vision to empower Saudi women to travel solo overseas to some of those more off the beaten track destinations.

And when she travels, she travels like an Intrepid traveller. She uses local transport and local accommodation, and she believes that a true traveller knows that the most important part of any trip is meeting the locals. So yes, she was the perfect fit for us.

Q: You’ve been to Saudi yourself and met with Sara?

A: I was introduced to Sara about a year ago as part of the R&D for this tour. I then travelled to Saudi later in 2023 to meet with her on the ground and to meet some of the women that our travellers will be connecting with to better understand the destination and really get a feel for some of the experiences as well.

Q: What would you say to women who may be a little uncertain about travelling to this destination?

A: I can understand that. I’m a fierce advocate for women and these women’s expeditions are my passion projects.

I travelled to Saudi last year and I was a little bit unsure myself – I had some preconceptions about what I might see and experience, and I wasn’t sure if it would sit well with me.

But I was really impressed by the destination and the people that I met. I went out of my way to talk to locals and in particular women from all different walks of life in different roles to try and get a true sense from them directly about what the reality of life was like for them.

I think there’s absolutely a sense of disbelief that change is happening and that women are benefiting from these changes, and particularly in tourism.

What I saw was many women leading from the front, unapologetic and proud Saudi women. They really want to be part of what they’re calling Saudi’s transformation journey, but they want to tell their own narrative on their own terms.

I left with an overwhelming sense that tourism is providing people, particularly women, with the vehicle to do just that as well as opening up new opportunities, new roles and a chance to also break some of those stereotypes.

And that’s what travel is all about. And that’s what traveling with Intrepid is all about.

Q: Has there been any negative feedback about running tours to Saudi?

A: Not to my knowledge. I understand that there’s some people, and we anticipated this, who have strong feelings one way or the other. It’s not an easy decision for some travellers around this particular destination and that’s perfectly okay.

But at Intrepid we fundamentally believe that travel can be a force for good – we don’t boycott destinations.

And we’re really proud and confident that by running this trip in this particular way, when travel is done properly, it really can have a positive impact on local communities.

Q: Clearly the number of women looking to travel solo seems to be on the rise?

A: Absolutely. Interest in our women’s expeditions continues to grow year on year. Last year we saw an increase of around 165 per cent of travellers on these trips and we continue to see a real broad range of women across all ages, from all parts of the world.

They want the comfort and safety of travelling with other like-minded women and they are really doing something for themselves on their own terms and in their own way.

• A limited run of five departures, each with a maximum of 12 travellers, will start on November 26. The 12-day trip will start at $8,795.