Hottest tourist destination in the Kingdom described as the Saudi Maldives

Hottest tourist destination in the Kingdom described as the Saudi Maldives
The hidden gem of Umluj gained wide recognition as a tourist destination when domestic travel became highly recommended due to the continued suspension of international flights. (Photo courtesy: Social media)
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Updated 07 August 2020

Hottest tourist destination in the Kingdom described as the Saudi Maldives

Hottest tourist destination in the Kingdom described as the Saudi Maldives
  • Variety of coral reefs and serene white sands make Umluj a must-see Red Sea coast destination for divers

JEDDAH: With serene white sands, deep blue waters and hidden coral reefs, one Saudi Arabian governorate on the Red Sea coast has become this summer’s hottest destination.

The hidden gem of Umluj gained wide recognition as a tourist destination when domestic travel became highly recommended due to the continued suspension of international flights. Visitors never imagined the Kingdom was home to such a unique destination, boasting both beaches and mountains.

Khalid Khayat, owner of the Royal Tours camp at Umluj, said that the area had actually been known for a long time as one of the best beaches in Saudi Arabia, but it was only when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited and announced the Red Sea Project that it gained global recognition.

“There are 99 islands with beautiful sandy beaches. People call it the Saudi Maldives,” Khayat told Arab News.




Captivating sunset at Umluj. (Social media photo)

“When the crown prince announced the initiation of the Red Sea Project in 2017 and developed the construction plan in Umluj, the world discovered the name and the site,” he said.

What distinguishes Umluj from other beaches in the Kingdom is its variety of coral reefs, which make it a must-see for divers.

“You rarely find reefs in such a variety of colors, shapes and sizes like those at Umluj. Honestly, it’s like diving into paradise,” said Khayat.

Umluj is also an ideal destination for hikers and mountain climbers.

“Less than an hour’s drive outside of the city, you have mountains, where you can go hiking or sightseeing. With volcanos to the east and beaches to the west, Umluj boasts a combination of natural features that is rarely found elsewhere,” Khayat added.

Umluj is like a mesmerizing painting. Its over 100, picturesque islands, with their palm trees, soft white sand, crystal clear waters, and abundant, diverse marine life, are a photographer’s dream — and it’s right in our backyard. The islands have kindled my enthusiasm as a photographer and a nature lover and moved me to pack my bags and head to the heart of this enchanting place to discover its beauty for myself. I also want to have a hand in promoting local tourism through beautiful images.

Huda Bashatah, Arab News photographer

Aalia Fathima, 29, who is currently visiting Umluj with her husband, said: “We have been looking for different places in Saudi Arabia to visit on the Eid holiday, and we came across Umluj. I could hardly hide how excited I was to see the location! The sand is as soft as cotton, and the water is crystal clear.”

She added: “There are so many species of crab and beautiful shells that dot the beaches. We enjoyed it greatly.”

In addition to being enchanted by the site’s natural beauty, Fathima was impressed by the kindness of the local people.

“Being here, away from the sounds of the big city, was lovely,” she said.

Khayat said that ever since the announcement of the Red Sea Project, the number of visitors to Ulmuj has increased from hundreds to a thousand per week. Royal Tours receive 40 to 45 guests a day. 




Umluj boasts of a variety of coral reefs, which make it a must-see for divers. (Social media photo)

He said the number of international visitors sometimes exceeds the number of Saudi visitors, with some traveling from the other end of the world only to visit the volcano sites at Umluj.

“I received people about nine months ago who had come all the way from New York to Jeddah airport. They waited a few hours and took a flight to Yanbu, then drove all the way to Umluj just to see the volcanos. One was a lady from the US who had never been to Saudi Arabia before. She got a tourist visa just to come to Umluj,” Khayat said.

Paris Verra, 25 and from the US, has been a resident in Saudi Arabia for almost two years and has been to Umluj twice.

“I kept seeing photos of Umluj and hearing people say it looked like the Maldives. I was so curious to see what it looked like in person. I knew a few friends who were going there, so at the last minute I decided to go, and I couldn’t believe that this water was in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“I am surprised at how untouched this place is. I have traveled the world, and it is very difficult to find somewhere that is so pristine and that has not been damaged. Umluj had the most beautiful reefs I had ever seen,” she added, joking that if she could live in Umluj, she would.


Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait
Updated 09 March 2021

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

The Saudi-led Arab coalition said it intercepted a Houthi drone headed toward Khamis Mushait in the southern region in Saudi Arabia, Saudi state channel Al-Ekhbariya reported on Tuesday.

The coalition said that “the Houthi militia commits grave mistakes and horrific violations of international humanitarian law,” adding that it is “dealing with these violation in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, the Houthis faced international condemnation on Monday after attacking Saudi oil facilities.

The US said the Houthis needed to show seriousness about US-backed peace efforts.
“We condemn the egregious Houthi drone and missile attack against Saudi Aramco facilities,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.


8 Saudi mosques close after 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19

8 Saudi mosques close after 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19
Updated 09 March 2021

8 Saudi mosques close after 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19

8 Saudi mosques close after 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • 236 mosques have closed temporarily in last 29 days
  • 224 of them have so far reopened after sterilization

RIYADH: Saudi authorities temporarily closed eight mosques in three regions of Saudi Arabia on Monday, after 10 worshipers tested positive for COVID-19.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance said that 236 mosques have been closed in the past 29 days. Of those, 224 reopened after they were sterilized and steps were taken to ensure public safety.
Six of the mosques closed on Monday are in Riyadh, one is in Madinah and one in Tabuk, the ministry said. It added that six previously closed mosques have reopened in Makkah, Qassim and the Eastern Province after precautionary sterilization and maintenance.
The ministry called on worshipers and mosque officials to abide by all precautionary measures and report any violations or problems applying health protocols.


Saudi Arabia beats Silicon Valley on women’s tech roles, ministry claims

Saudi Arabia beats Silicon Valley on women’s tech roles, ministry claims
Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 1, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 43 min 53 sec ago

Saudi Arabia beats Silicon Valley on women’s tech roles, ministry claims

Saudi Arabia beats Silicon Valley on women’s tech roles, ministry claims
  • Saudi Arabia's investment in cybersecurity has led to its recognition as a pioneer, rated number one regionally and 13 internationally by the International Telecommunication Union

JEDDAH: Saudi women’s participation rate in the communications and IT sector rose from 11 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2021, an official at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) said.
“Due to several initiatives, that percentage has surpassed that of Silicon Valley, which is currently at 17 percent,” Bandar Al-Duwais, MCIT’s director of future recruitments, said during the Women Enablement Summit.
After a recent surge in spending on women’s training, Saudi women currently make up 40 percent of digital entrepreneurs, he added.
Dr. Hala Al-Tuwaijri, head of G20 Women’s Empowerment team, said that during the Kingdom’s presidency, Saudi Arabia had three central focuses: Human empowerment, the earth’s sustainability and implementing new horizons.
“Women’s empowerment was at the core of all of them,” she said.
The Kingdom’s investment in cybersecurity has led to its recognition as a pioneer, rated number one regionally and 13 internationally by the International Telecommunication Union.

FASTFACT

• Saudi women’s participation rate in the IT sector rose from 11 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2021.

Basmah Al-Jedai, general manager of the Center of Strategic Studies at the National Cybersecurity Authority, said that women took greater advantage of the authority’s training programs than men did.
The National Academy for Cybersecurity’s scholarship program, which offered students scholarships to esteemed institutes globally, has attracted 67 percent of female applicants.
Another initiative, Cyber Pro, which focuses on building a cybersecurity workforce in the Kingdom, has seen 62 percent of female participants.
Based on the Kingdom’s goal of increasing women’s participation in the labor market and the ministry’s strategy, which gives priority to enhancing the role of women in the sector, MCIT developed an integrated program to empower women in the communications and information technology sector.


Saudi Arabia launches women’s accountancy program

Saudi Arabia launches women’s accountancy program
Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi. (SPA)
Updated 09 March 2021

Saudi Arabia launches women’s accountancy program

Saudi Arabia launches women’s accountancy program
  • Al-Qasabi says initiative will help achieve Vision 2030 goals

RIYADH: A program to encourage Saudi women to join the accounting profession was launched on Monday by Saudi Commerce Minister Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi.

The program is organized by the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants (SOCPA).
Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi was also present at the launch event.
Describing the accounting profession as the “backbone of any company,” Al-Qasabi said the industry is “instrumental” in the national economy.
The program includes training, qualification, entrepreneurship and employment streams. It is part of Saudi government efforts to empower women and increase their participation in the national economy.
“Women today have strong will, determination and ambition to succeed in all fields, especially accounting, which requires precision, analysis and vitality. Saudi women possess all these qualities,” Al-Qasabi said.
“The program will enhance women’s role in improving the profession and help achieve the goals of Vision 2030.”
The minister said that there are 140 SOCPA-certified female accountants in the Kingdom. He added that SOCPA has cooperated with Saudi universities to help more than 10,000 accounting students benefit from programs and initiatives.
SOCPA Secretary-General Dr. Ahmed Al-Maghamis told Arab News that the organization will sign multiple agreements with the private sector to help promote accounting as a profession for Saudis.
He said that SOCPA aims to fill 20,000 auditing and accounting jobs by 2022.
The new women’s accounting program also doubles up as an initiative to increase the number of Saudi accountants and enable economic sectors to receive better access accounting and auditing services, he added.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The program includes training, qualification, entrepreneurship and employment streams.

• It is organized by the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants.

“The program aims to develop the skills of Saudi women and allow them to participate in SOCPA council and committees,” Al-Maghamis said.
SOCPA is also working to establish a center to support small and medium enterprises. The women’s program includes several initiatives, such as a volunteer club and accounting leaderships, the empowerment platform and the women’s council, he said.
Dr. Ghuraibah Al-Twaiher, chairperson of the Future Women Society, said that promoting women and helping them achieve professional success is necessary for future economic growth.
“Vision 2030 recognizes the key role of women in the development process and calls for greater participation of women to build a vital society,” she said.
In line with the Future Women Society’s mission to enhance women’s integrated economic value locally and internationally, the society recently signed an agreement with the Saudi Financials Association (SFA), Al-Twaiher said.
“The society aims to enable, develop and empower women’s career and professional skills. The SFA increases public awareness of the financial and accounting industries and also contributes to the development of a national cadre that is specialized in finance and accounting,” she added.
Al-Twaiher said the memorandum of understanding with the SFA includes joint cooperation in organizing and implementing awareness campaigns..
As part of this, the two organizations will design training programs for women interested in the fields of accounting and finance.
Razan Al-Sehaibani, a certified accountant, said that women are naturally suited to accounting. She added that she chose the profession because she had the capabilities to be an active member in society and contribute to building the national economy.
She praised the future of the accounting industry as “promising,” adding that the addition of more women accountants will benefit the field.


Saudi Arabia approves incentives for Hajj and Umrah businesses

Saudi Arabia approves incentives for Hajj and Umrah businesses
Updated 09 March 2021

Saudi Arabia approves incentives for Hajj and Umrah businesses

Saudi Arabia approves incentives for Hajj and Umrah businesses
  • Incentives intended to mitigate the financial and economic repercussions of COVID-19

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman approved a number of incentive initiatives for establishments operating in the Hajj and Umrah sectors, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Monday.
The move comes as part of the king’s keenness to mitigate the financial and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals, private sector businesses and investors.
“These initiatives come as an extension of the Kingdom’s efforts to confront the financial and economic impacts on the sectors operating in the Hajj and Umrah field and the economic activities most affected by the repercussions of the pandemic,” a statement on SPA said.
The initiatives include:
1. Accommodation facilities would be exempt of annual fees for licenses for municipal commercial activities for one year in Makkah and Madinah.
2. Hajj and Umrah sector establishments will be exempt from paying the fee for employed expats for six months.
3. Licenses for accommodation facilities from the Ministry of Tourism may be renewed free of charge for one year in Makkah and Madinah, which can be extended.
4. Collection of residency renewal fees for expatriates working in activities related to the Hajj and Umrah sector will be postponed for six months, and the amounts are to be paid in installments over a period of one year.
5. The validity of licenses (application forms) for buses operating in facilities that transport pilgrims would be extended without charge for one year.
6. Collection of customs duties for new buses for this year’s Hajj season will be postponed for three months, and to be paid in installments over a period of four months starting from the due date.
The Saudi government has launched more than 150 initiatives, the allocations of which exceeded SR180 billion ($47.9 billion), with the aim of confronting the repercussions of pandemic and mitigating its effects on individuals, the private sector and investors.