First Women-Only Hotel Opens in Saudi Arabia

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  05.19.08 | 12:07 PM ET

imageIn January, we wrote that Saudi Arabia had lifted restrictions on women staying alone in hotels; previously, women had been required to stay with, or to carry a letter of permission from, a male “guardian.” So what’s come of it? The change has opened the way for a new niche hotel: the Luthan Hotel & Spa, which the executive director boasts is “women-owned, women-managed, and women-run.” But as the Christian Science Monitor’s Caryle Murphy asks, is this a sign of progress or of deepening gender segregation?

“It’s taking a step backwards,” one interviewee said. “These religious clerics are trying to say that men and women [being] together could lead to adultery. And it’s not true.”

For others, though, the hotel offers welcome new opportunities. As one guest pointed out, “In a regular hotel, I can’t use the spa.”

The hotel’s executive director thinks the Luthan is no different from women-only offerings elsewhere in the world, from Italy’s “pink beach” to Brazil’s all-female train compartments. “Regardless of where we are in this world,” she told Murphy, “I think women are finding the need to have spaces that are dedicated to themselves.”

That’s true enough—it can be nice to have the choice to withdraw from the coed world for a little while. But the catch is, of course, in Saudi Arabia there is no coed world to withdraw from. Women may be allowed to travel unaccompanied now, but they are still not permitted to find any new male company along the way—even for something as innocent as a cup of coffee or a chat.

Until that changes, I’m not sure you can call a stay at the Luthan much of a choice.

Related on World Hum:
* ‘Girls of Riyadh’: Saudi Arabia’s ‘Sex and the City’?

Photo by Mujib via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

1 Comment for First Women-Only Hotel Opens in Saudi Arabia

Rich Bitch 09.17.08 | 1:06 PM ET

Indeed it is a small step that hardly counts as a victory, but it should still be regarded a sign of progress. Let’s face it, even in a country as progressive as the United States there are still places where women are not allowed if not in blatant practice then surely in attitude. Hopefully the United States and other Western societies will continue to make progress and this will propel other regions forward. It may take until the next century but change sometimes takes a couple of hundred years to occur.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.