Three major Gulf carriers are boosting their connections between the West Midlands and the Middle East, offering extra opportunities for travellers taking off from Birmingham Airport to explore soaring destinations like Dubai, Doha, or Jeddah.
Earlier this year, Emirates expanded its A380 operations with the resumption of services from a handful of European airports, including Solihull-based BHX. The world’s largest airliner doubled down on its iconic double-decker superjumbo aircraft to ramp up capacity on its popular Dubai service, which operates twice a day from Birmingham.
The national flag carrier of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia followed suit last week with the launch of thrice-weekly direct flights from Birmingham to Jeddah. This marks the first time Saudia Airlines operates from Birmingham.
Another popular Arab airline resumed its Birmingham services this summer. After a three-year hiatus, Qatar Airways made a notable comeback to the Midlands. UK and Ireland country manager for Qatar Airways Gary Kershaw was among the dignitaries that welcomed the first returning flight from Doha upon its arrival on the tarmac in Birmingham.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street rejoiced in what he called “a big economic boost to the region,” which could mean a lot for the future of the West Midlands in terms of job creation and foreign direct investment. BHX chief executive Nick Barton concurred, highlighting the
West Midlands’s strong economy “the size of Hungary’s.” Barton added that direct Middle Eastern connectivity would greatly benefit those travellers wishing to explore the MENA, whether for business, leisure, or religious purposes.
This recent expansion may come as a pleasant surprise for Midlander travellers, for the lack of Arab airlines operating from BHX long meant higher prices. With dozens of weekly flights to choose from, Midlanders can now explore the riches of the Middle East beyond the United Arab Emirates alone. While Muslim pilgrims can now go to Makkah or Medina for Hajj without the need for a stopover in Dubai, tourists might as well stick to Jeddah “to sample its rich cultural heritage” or soak up the sun on its “beautiful beaches” in the words of Nick Barton.
While Dubai has ranked among the world’s most-visited cities for years, Saudi Arabia is just waking up to its tourism potential. Seeking to diversify its oil-focused economy, the kingdom rolled out an ambitious foreign visitor push in the past years. The Arab country eased up its visa policy in the hope of attracting up to 100 million foreign tourists yearly. Bold tourism ventures like the Red Sea Project, a luxury resort destination currently in development that shall cover an area larger than the country of Belize, aim to put the kingdom on the tourism map.
To elevate its image worldwide, Saudi Arabia also signed tourism promotion deals with global superstars like Lionel Messi. The recent signings of such high-profile football players as Karim Benzema, Rúben Neves, and Édouard Mendy into the Saudi Professional League only cemented the kingdom’s new stature as a desirable sports destination – and a thriving entertainment hub.
However, some discordant voices claim that these highly-publicised plans only serve to sanitise the country’s reputation. Although he softened his stance as of late, Scottish tennis giant Andy Murray rejected a lucrative £1.5 million offer to participate in exhibition matches in the kingdom. Women’s Tennis Tour chief Steve Simon also said that Saudi Arabia posed “big issues” as a host for WTA matches. Even with recent progress toward more gender equity, women’s rights in the kingdom remain a controversial topic.
Besides, the observance of strictly conservative religious norms means that several restrictions are in place for foreigners visiting the country, including a complete ban on alcohol and the prohibition of sports betting and gambling. Hence, travellers looking for gambling fun had better visit online casinos before their trip. Top websites boast as many live dealer casino games as innovative machine slots. Prospective gamers can check out free reviews and guidelines to find the best pick for their playing styles. Plus, new casinos and established platforms alike reward users with handsome bonuses like free spins, cashback offers, and no deposit deals that they may use to enjoy Arabian-themed games before hopping on a plane.
While travelling to Saudi Arabia poses challenges, there is no denying the kingdom has many cultural and natural treasures to display. And visitors from the Midlands now have direct flights to discover this once closed-to-the-world country, unless they’d rather opt for an exciting city break in Dubai or Doha.