Watch: Saudi Arabia charms travelling vloggers before coronavirus clampdown
Prominent video personalities from across the globe, fresh off their first visits to the Kingdom, have praised the warmth and hospitality of the Saudi people, shattering stereotypes that existed before the new visa system opened the country to the world.
“The main thing I learned is that Saudi Arabians are welcoming and kind,” said South Korean vlogger Chomad in a vlog published 6 April from Riyadh.
Chomad, also known as Bo Kim, has posted five videos on Saudi Arabia to his 340,000 subscribers on YouTube which have received more than 1.6 million views in total.
“I guess Saudi is not that conservative country that I thought,” Chomad said in a subsequent vlog published on April 20.
Soon after the first tourist visas were introduced six months ago, tourists rushed to visit the country, with 24,000 applications in the first 10 days of the program.
By the end of 2019, the Kingdom had issued 350,000 tourists visas, reported the Bahrain News Agency, citing Chairman of the Board of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage Ahmed Al Khatib.
The program was subsequently suspended in February when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began to hit international travel.
Chomad was particularly touched by the friendliness he experienced at Riyadh’s Souk El Zal, where he learned the traditional nose-touch greeting called the ‘Khashm-makh’, receiving the traditional nose-touch greetings from many Saudi traders in the souk, each eager to share their culture with the curious visitor.
“Everyone wants to do Khashm-makh with me!” he exclaimed.
Sitting in the souk, Saudi traders served the vlogger kabsa, the Saudi rice and meat dish, which he said tasted like chicken fried rice from his home of Korea. Chomad was also given Arabic coffee and dates by the men, who then taught the young man to use his right hand to eat, a cultural sign of respect Chomad was happy to show.
While Chomad noted humorously in the video that he wasn’t sure if the warm welcome he received was because Saudis happened to like Koreans, that same spirit in fact has been extended to all visitors. Vloggers from the United States and Europe have also extensively documented their journeys across the Kingdom in recent months, often stunned by the displays of generosity they experienced.
European and American travelers share their stories
German YouTuber Flo Muller was shocked when his Saudi Uber driver pulled over the car to buy him a crate full of oranges in order to welcome him to the country, a gesture Muller posted a response to on April 8.
“This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, [something like this has happened] pretty much every day! The people are so kind and nice, and they want to welcome you and share their country with you. It’s impossible to pay when you go out. This is not a small village, it’s the capital! How kind are people here! It’s insane. It’s literally insane,” said Muller in the video, filmed from his hotel room in Riyadh.
Doug Barnard, a New York City-based traveler and vlogger, received perhaps the most generous gift of all after a chance meeting on the street with a Saudi influencer and actor named Alharthi Sultan, who goes by ‘Meer3i’ and has 2.5 million followers on Instagram
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In a video entitled “An Amazing Act of SAUDI GENEROSITY”, Barnard recounts the story of meeting Sultan, who, after bringing him to his home for dinner and giving him a ride back to his budget hotel, thought his new friend deserved a more luxurious experience, taking him out of current accommodation and moving him to the five-star Narcissus Hotel & Residence Riyadh, at no expense to Barnard.
“He would not take no for an answer!” said Barnard.
Judging from Sultan ‘Mee3ri’s comments, the Saudi people are just as anxious to welcome visitors to their country as the first-time tourists are to see the previously closed-off nation.
“American is brother. Douglas is a good man. All the Saudis are like this. Everybody says welcome, any time. In Saudi Arabia, 2030 [will be] different… Everything now is good,” said Sultan to Barnard in the video published 23 February, which has gained over 356,000 views since it was posted.
In referencing 2030, Sultan noted to the diversification efforts being made by the nation as part of Saudi Vision 2030, a move to not only reduce the country’s dependence on oil, but also to open the country up to the world, signaling a new era both economically and culturally.
Though it is unclear when international tourism will return to normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the stories that thousands of visitors have about their first trips to Saudi Arabia continue to resonate across the dozens of nations whose citizens were issued visas.
Now home in South Korea, Chomad has already decided to come back to Saudi Arabia as soon as he gets the chance, he informed his more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
“After corona in winter I will return to the Arab world. Wait for me please!” Chomad wrote in an April 18 post.