Saudi women can now book a hotel room and stay there without requiring a man to accompany her or give permission, opening doors for greater mobility for women in a country known for its conservatism.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has ratified a law allowing women to put up at hotels by themselves, amid frowns from the most conservative sections of the country, where women require a mahram or legal guardian to undertake any activity outside their homes.
With this development, women can now also exercise more freedom while travelling and carrying out other activities within the country.
Businesswoman Afnan al Omar expressed relief at the decision, which will allow her more freedom and ease in managing her business affairs.
“I am a businesswoman and manage my own company, and I have to travel within the Saudi kingdom,” she said.
Al Omar said the most striking thing was that Saudi women could travel alone and put up at hotels anywhere in the world expect in their own country.
She said she was met with refusals at reception desks in the country while trying to ignore the old law and make a reservation.
“You have no right to stay at a hotel without a guardian,” she was told, indicating she needed to be accompanied by a male family member, such as her father, brother, husband or son, provided he was not a minor.
She had to stay at relatives’ houses, which often made her feel embarrassed.
“I usually booked flights that did not require me to spend the night outside the capital under any circumstance.”
Several establishments under the new law are already accepting bookings from women, Emad al Shami, who manages reservations at a 4-star hotel in Riyadh, said.
“We received six bookings during the first week, and a large number of calls to verify if the new law is already in force at our establishment.”
He added they have received no orders from authorities for setting up separate spaces for women or designating female staff to deal with women clients.
However, Al Shami said his hotel is trying to hire more women to attend to their female guests, keeping in mind the conservative social norms in their country.
Conservative sections have reacted harshly to the new measure on social networking sites as well as through the local media.