Kuwait is not your typical tourist destination. Quite the contrary: it is one of the countries receiving the fewest tourists worldwide. Although the majority of the people you will come across here are foreigners, chances are small they are visiting. Instead they operate this country: from the managers to the doctors and the engineers, the taxi drivers and the construction workers. Kuwaiti society is incredibly diverse, and people living and working here come from all over the world.
Tourists are few and far between. I am the exception. After an internship I decided to return for holidays this year. I have very happy memories of the time I spent in Kuwait, and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my summer holidays than in this tiny desert country. This caused no small amazement on the part of my friends there, who were convinced the only way to see me back was to come to Europe. After all, who really comes to Kuwait for fun?
Without exception, people I meet are surprised when I say that I have come here for holidays. Conversations usually follow a pattern: first they ask me how I am doing, then they want to know where I am from (USA? Russia? England?) and then they want to know about my work. When I tell them I don’t work in Kuwait but in Germany, they wonder where the relatives that I’m visiting are. Because well yeah, every foreigner here either works here or comes to visit family. No one comes here simply for the sake of being in Kuwait, like I do.
The United Arab Emirates, some two hours south of Kuwait, receives millions and millions of tourists every year. It obviously has a much better PR department, because the UAE is the place to be in the Middle East these days. Whereas objectively seen, the UAE does not have so much more to offer than Kuwait. The Burj Khalifa is a tiny bit higher than the Al Hamra Tower, Kuwait’s highest building. The UAE boasts an indoor skiing hall, whereas Kuwait only has the ice skating ring. The Emiratis spend a little more money on fascinating projects like Palm Island. There is no seven star hotel in Kuwait. All this is true, but it does not conceal the fact that the UAE is not so very different from Kuwait.
Both are tiny desert countries with more or less the same profile, although the UAE is doing somewhat better when it comes to diversifying the oil-based economy. Like the UAE, Kuwait has a climate that could attract lots and lots of sun-loving tourists. Although it does get a little colder in Kuwait in winter, one could argue that the spring and autumn in Kuwait are a lot more favourable than in the UAE. Kuwait too has the malls that the UAE is so famous for, and like the UAE it has plenty of sand. More than the UAE Kuwait still has a bit of authenticity, a bit of an Arabic vibe to it. In Kuwait you feel like you’re in the Arabic world, Dubai is more of a futuristic world with little specifically Middle Eastern to it. But of course – and I guess this makes all the difference – Kuwait is a bit more conservative. Some clothing you can wear in Dubai will meet with disapproval here. Moreover, it is a dry country, with no alcohol or clubs. How many tourists would consider visiting a country where they cannot even get a drink at their hotel?
For me however, Kuwait is one of the most fascinating places I know. I am the country’s only tourist, and I am so very, very happy to be here.
Photo credits: Lindsay Silveira (CC-BY-ND 2.0)