TANTORA, AL-ULA: Al-Ula, home to UNESCO World Heritage Site Madain Saleh, will be revealed to the world once tourism-related projects in the region are complete.
The announcement was made by Amr Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU), during the launch of a community advocacy program aimed at promoting awareness around heritage and environmental preservation. The “Hammayah” program (Arabic for protection) was launched on Thursday at the Tantora Cultural Festival.
The program is slated to create 2,500 employment opportunities in the region, all of whom will be groomed into gatekeepers to their city’s natural wonders.
The RCU was established last year by royal decree. Hammayah will hold workshops to teach locals how to help promote and protect the region’s archaeological sites.
“We are delighted to be launching one of the most significant community initiatives in Al-Ula,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Aqeel, RCU operations officer.
“We are encouraging our people to be custodians of their homelands. Al-Ula is a place of extraordinary history and heritage.”
Intra-Kingdom travelers have engraved many messages on the rocks and mountains of Al-Ula over hundreds of years, according to Madani.
“We are now hoping tourists will come in from abroad,” he said.
“We want to ensure a strategic plan is in place before investors begin launching their businesses in the region. There has been human activity in the area for thousands of years and every generation has left behind traces of their existence. In fact, the vast landscape is dotted with some of the most fascinating and significant archaeological remains in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Tourism will account for 70 percent of Al-Ula’s economy. “The region will have a tourism college by 2019,” added Madani. In addition, organizers hope the mountainous region will make for an attractive destination for filmmakers. Spanning a five-year period, the RCU-sponsored scholarship program gives youth a chance to liaise with world-class institutions in the US, UK and France, among other top-notch destinations.
Students can acquire diplomas, BAs or MAs in tourism and hospitality, agriculture, archaeology, history and any other discipline that is relevant to sustainable development.
The RCU has launched a regional online competition aimed at making Al-Ula a more obvious tourist destination. Contestants are encouraged to describe how they view the rock formations by giving them creative names. Three winners were recently chosen in the first round of the competition.
The RCU has launched a photography program aimed at encouraging the sale of the region’s most captivating images. Officials recently purchased portraits taken by talented youth in support of the local economy.
Mobile phone coverage is said to be improving in the area pending the construction of permanent telecommunications infrastructure.
The RCU recently established a council for the region’s tribal leaders, which was announced by RCU Governor Badr Al-Saud.
The commission also plans on launching an initiative to support rock-climbing and other forms of adventure-related tourism in conjunction with the Saudi Climbing Federation (SCF).
Both the RCU and the SCF have begun building infrastructure for rock-climbing routes and two tracks were recently opened to the public. The region recently held its first ever dates festival. Tantora, a mud-and-brick structure in the area’s old city, has become the region’s landmark.
The Tantora winter festival has helped create ample temporary employment opportunities and taught youth how to organize events, manage crowds and improve customer service to guests. The RCU also aims to make the region disabled-friendly and establish a rehabilitation center of its own.