As vaccine programs begin to roll-out around the world and discussions about the reopening of borders accelerate, so too does conversation about the economic recovery strategies countries are adopting. Tourism is at the heart of this conversation.
I have previously expressed my views on the benefits of Saudi Arabia’s blooming tourism industry. I may be a little biased - I am Riyadh-born and raised - but for me, Saudi Arabia tops the list as the most stunningly beautiful, diverse and activity-packed destination that I have ever experienced.
Throughout my life I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel, and while there are many other incredible places around the world that I love to visit - London for its architecture and variety; Turin for its food, its language and its football - I believe that as a package, nowhere can quite beat Saudi Arabia.
The diversity of the Kingdom’s culture, its geography and beauty of its varying landscapes, its weather make it a unique destination, unexplored and undiscovered.
Now Saudi Arabia continues to demonstrate its commitment to revitalizing the tourism sector, with recent announcements of investment plans worth billions of dollars to develop tourism and infrastructure projects within the Kingdom.
In February this year, plans were unveiled for the design of ‘Coral Bloom’ on Shurayrah - the main hub island of Saudi Arabia’s tourism-focused Red Sea Project, which was announced in 2017. This stunning new resort destination will comprise 11 new hotels, beaches and leisure facilities. The hotels, each unique to appeal to people from all walks of life, have been designed to emerge from the dunes of the island, the concept applying a regenerative approach to sustain and protect the natural beauty of Shurayrah, which itself has incredible fauna and flora.
The eco-friendly and sustainable design of the Coral Bloom development will carry across to other locations within The Red Sea Project, including the new Red Sea International Airport. The airport is due to be completed in 2022 and will be the gateway for an estimated one million tourists per year.
There has been increased focus and investment into connectivity to and around the Kingdom. What were once regional airports, AlUla and Abha have now become international airports so that visitors from overseas can travel directly from their home cities.
Abha, the capital of the Asir region of Saudi Arabia, will also benefit from significant investment in the coming years. In late February, the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, announced the launch of the Soudah Development Company (SDC), responsible for leading the development of the Asir region.
The SDC will invest US$3 billion in tourism and infrastructure projects with the aim of creating a sustainable luxury tourist destination in the mountains. It will collaborate with the private sector and the local communities of Soudah and Rijal Alma to develop a world class tourism infrastructure of 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units and 30 unique commercial and year-round entertainment attractions by 2030. By that time, more than 2 million adventure seekers and culture travellers will be visiting the region annually and some 8,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs will have been created.
The SDC is named after the mountain village of Al Soudah just 17 miles from Abha, surrounded by dense juniper trees and with moderate temperatures of 15-25 degrees Centigrade throughout the year.
For most people, when they think of Saudi Arabia, they think of desert, dry heat and arid terrain.
And while this does exist in Saudi, there is so much more the country has to offer: a rich variety of weather systems and landscapes.
Over the recent winter months, travellers in Saudi Arabia have enjoyed both the cool, fresh air in the mountains and the warmth of the valleys in Jazan in the southwest. They have experienced the heat of Jeddah at 25 degrees, which has allowed them to dive in the Red Sea, and have had snow at zero degrees in Tabuk in the north.
From my home city of Riyadh, where the winter temperature averages at a comfortable 15 degrees, they have been able to travel 45 minutes to camp in the desert. The dunes have provided the perfect place to go sand-boarding – harder to master than snowboarding, but less painful and accessible all year round!
Saudi Arabia is not just about the remarkable new developments, the endless adventure activities and the breath-taking landscapes. With five UNESCO World Heritage sites, Saudi Arabia is also brimming with history and cultural identity.
It may be hard to believe, but all those experiences, activities and weather variations are in just one country – Saudi Arabia. Saudi has proven to be an exciting and fulfilling destination and with all the investment in the industry, the tourism experience in Saudi Arabia will only continue to get better, wherever you are in the Kingdom and whatever the weather.