Soudah and Rijal Almaa: Where Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty, mild weather and cultural heritage converge

The Soudah Development Company (SDC) was launched at the end of February by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Supplied)
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The Soudah Development Company (SDC) was launched at the end of February by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Supplied)
Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
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Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination. (Supplied)
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Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination. (Supplied)
Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
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Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
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Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)
Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination. (Supplied)
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Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination. (Supplied)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Soudah and Rijal Almaa: Where Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty, mild weather and cultural heritage converge

The Soudah Development Company (SDC) was launched at the end of February by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Supplied)
  • Mountainous region has all the makings of a great tourist destination with its rich history and breathtaking views
  • Soudah Development Company aims to provide 2,700 rooms ranging from luxury hotel suites to glamping pods

SOUDAH: Saudi Arabia is radically expanding its leisure, tourism and hospitality sectors as it opens to international travelers. As the Kingdom strives to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030 goals to diversify its economy, one attraction in particular could give the tourism industry an ace up its sleeve.

Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination.

The Soudah Development Company (SDC) was launched at the end of February by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to help Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa in the Asir region grow into a world-class tourist destination.

The 627 sq km area under development already enjoys a thriving domestic tourism market, with its sweeping valleys, epic hiking trails, serene vistas of mountain peaks nestled among rain clouds and its unique cultural heritage.

Soudah and Rijal Almaa boast a combination of geographic, historical and cultural diversity that gives visitors an authentic sense of social connection and cultural immersion.

“Saudi Arabia is extremely diverse,” Husameddin Al-Madani, SDC’s CEO, told Arab News. “One would think that Saudi Arabia is mainly desert with dry, hot weather, but there are beautiful, untapped destinations all around the Kingdom.”

To accommodate the planned influx of visitors, SDC aims to provide 2,700 rooms, ranging from luxury hotel suites to glamping pods. It also plans to build 30 new leisure attractions.

“You’re talking about the longest zip lines, mountain coasters and indoor activities,” Al-Madani said.

“In addition to hotel rooms, we’re also developing 1,300 second homes where you can own a summer house at this beautiful destination. It’s important to mention that we are investing heavily in infrastructure. We’re also looking at advanced technologies for water management and waste management, and to minimize our footprint on this eco-sensitive destination.”




Together with its rich history and breathtaking views, this mountainous region has all the makings of a top tourist destination. (Supplied)

People will be drawn to Soudah for a variety of reasons, Al-Madani said. Among them will be visitors with a passion for heritage, others who want to immerse themselves in local arts and music, and people seeking out new culinary tastes.

“We also aim to attract adventure seekers, people who love to get in touch with nature and enjoy adventure sports such as paragliding, mountain biking and mountain climbing. Plus another segment of people looking for immersive or unique wellness experiences, where they can just disconnect from their busy lives and come and enjoy Soudah’s peaceful surroundings.”

But will the development of Soudah threaten the unspoiled natural beauty and authentic heritage of the area? Al-Madani points to SDC’s mission, which is to preserve these precious attributes, not concrete over them.




Soudah — home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, about 3,000 meters above sea level — has long been popular with locals for its mild year-round temperatures. (Supplied)

“We have strict guidelines as we roll out our development program to minimize our footprint, to preserve the environment and also add to the beautiful nature around us,” he said.

“Without this nature, without the tangible and intangible assets, our company and our destination will lose their competitive advantage.”

Indeed, the company is evaluating multiple historical assets in the area which may qualify to join the UNESCO World Heritage register.

Soudah and Rijal Almaa

* SR11bn - Planned infrastructure investment in Soudah and Rijal Almaa.

* SR29bn - Estimated SDC contribution to Saudi GDP by 2030.

* 2 million - Target in terms of annual visitors.

* 8,000 - Anticipated direct and indirect permanent jobs by 2030.

“That is also one of our top priorities. It’s not just about registering a site with UNESCO, but introducing an urban code as well as a preservation code that will ensure that these assets are here to stay and we minimize the negative impact on them,” Al-Madani said.

That SDC has an ambitious long-term vision is evidenced further by its plans to bring major sporting events and activities from climbing to paragliding to the area.

“In addition, we will be inviting and attracting international competitions in the area of mountain biking and cycling and different outdoor activities,” Al-Madani said.

“It is a mountainous destination that attracts extreme sports as well. So, we will look at a wide range of activities, working with the Ministry of Sports, the Olympic Committee and different international organizations.”




Husameddin Al-Madani, Soudah Development Company’s CEO. (Supplied)

This does not mean the local community will be left behind or excluded from decision-making, Al-Madani said. Rather, residents will play an integral role in making the development a success.

“We look at the local community as our true partners to deliver on our mandate, our activities and our operation. A unique advantage that we enjoy at this destination is the generosity of the local community that we live within. The local community here has been welcoming tourists for years,” he told Arab News.

“We think of the local community as one of our key competitive advantages and, more importantly, as true partners to the destination the company aims to launch.”

Indeed, SDC is launching multiple programs to support the local community and ensure that the latter’s social and economic development goes hand in hand with its own investments. These programs include vocational training and assistance for small businesses.




Around 40 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, according to government figures, placing it 21st in global rankings. If the Kingdom achieves its Vision 2030 goal, it will rank fifth in the world. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia aims to increase the annual number of tourist arrivals to 100 million by 2030. SDC alone hopes to develop a destination that will attract 2 million visitors by 2030.

Around 40 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, according to government figures, placing it 21st in global rankings. If the Kingdom achieves its Vision 2030 goal, it will rank fifth in the world.

The global leisure, tourism and hospitality sectors suffered major setbacks in 2020 and 2021 as governments responded to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by closing their borders to international travelers and ordering resorts and attractions to close.

A recent study from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) found that almost one-third of destinations worldwide remain closed to international visitors.

Even as lockdown measures and curfews are gradually lifted, customer footfall remains low as spending power is squeezed by testing economic times.




The transformation of Soudah and Rijal Almaa into a repeat, year-long sustainable destination for residents and visitors is projected to contribute an estimated SR29 billion ($7.73 billion) to Saudi Arabia’s GDP. (Supplied)

International tourist arrivals fell by a billion, or 74 percent, in 2020, according to the UNWTO, which called it the “the worst year in tourism history” and cost the sector $1.3 trillion in lost revenue.

While international travel has waned significantly over the past year, domestic travel has actually seen an 11 percent boost in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the pandemic as restless households look closer to home for a short getaway.

According to recent estimates by market research firm Euromonitor International, inbound tourism spending in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach $25.3 billion by 2025 and thus help the sector recover from the pandemic’s setback.

The transformation of Soudah and Rijal Almaa into a repeat, year-long sustainable destination for residents and visitors is projected to contribute an estimated SR29 billion ($7.73 billion) to Saudi Arabia’s cumulative gross domestic product by 2030.

In a personal message to Arab News readers, Al-Madani said: “Come and explore the beauty and the diversity of Saudi Arabia.

“Come and explore its mountains and cultures, its beaches and sand dunes and, more importantly, take the time to learn about the beautiful local community that lives at these destinations — their generosity, their art, their music, their culinary experiences — that will live with you for years to come.”

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Twitter: @HussamMayman

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Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches
Updated 12 min 35 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches
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RIYADH: The Saudi Public Prosecution office has warned it will impose fines of up to SR500,000 ($133,323) on passengers breaching travel ban restrictions by boarding flights to countries hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Similar penalties would also apply to operators or owners of the means of transportation.

In a tweet on Sunday, officials added that severe punitive measures would be taken against travelers who failed to disclose they had visited any countries listed on the Kingdom’s COVID-19 travel ban list.


Saudi HR ministry launches tough measures for unvaccinated workers

A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi HR ministry launches tough measures for unvaccinated workers

A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
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JEDDAH: Unvaccinated employees within the Saudi public, private, and nonprofit sectors will have their leave days deducted until they receive a COVID-19 jab, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has warned.

The ministry issued a statement on Sunday clarifying procedures to deal with unvaccinated employees following the Ministry of Interior’s instruction for institutions to limit entry to vaccinated people after Aug 1.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Saudi Arabia has increased ahead of the deadline, with about 350,000 doses being administered per day, with a total vaccination rate of about 78 doses per 100 people in the Kingdom.
As a result, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development instructed all institutions in the Kingdom to require proof of immunity against COVID-19 from employees and workers, as approved by the Ministry of Health on the Tawakkalna mobile app.
The gradual plan to deal with unvaccinated employees begins with directing them to work remotely, according to the work need. In case remote work is not beneficial for the institution by Aug. 9, the employee will be granted leave deducted from their official leave balance.

HIGHLIGHT

The gradual plan to deal with unvaccinated employees begins with directing them to work remotely, according to the work need. In case remote work is not beneficial for the institution by Aug. 9, the employee will be granted leave deducted from their official leave balance.

As for the public sector, employees will consume their eligible leave days according to their legally approved conditions and requirements. However, if those requirements are not met or the employee has exhausted their leave balance, then absence days must be deducted from the balance of regular leaves or will be considered as an unpaid excused absence.
In the private and nonprofit sectors, employers will allow unvaccinated employees to go on official leave that will be calculated from their annual leave.
In case the annual leave balance is exhausted, employees will be granted unpaid leave, and their work contract will be considered suspended during the period once it exceeds 20 days, unless the two parties agree otherwise.
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Only fully jabbed students can return to school, says Saudi Education Ministry
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JEDDAH: Only students who have been fully jabbed against COVID-19 can go back to school once the academic year begins on Aug. 29, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Education said on Sunday.
High school and middle school students who have completed their vaccination program in Saudi Arabia are set to return to the classroom by the end of the month.
Elementary and preschool students will be exempt from returning until 70 percent herd immunity has been achieved through double dosage.
Saudi Arabia has so far administered more than 27.2 million vaccine doses and 8.25 million people have received both shots, making up 23.7 percent of the country’s 34.8 million population.
The ministry said appointments would be provided for staff and eligible students to get vaccinated in time for the start of the school year.
At Sunday’s press conference, Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly urged pregnant women to get jabbed. He reaffirmed the vaccines’ safety and efficacy and said a large number of unvaccinated pregnant women around the world had been hospitalized with COVID-19.

FASTFACT

The total number of coronavirus cases in KSA reached 526,814.

He also called on doctors to do their part in communicating the importance of COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women. “You aren’t just protecting one life, you’re protecting two,” he added.
Exemptions, including cases of medically proven hypersensitivity to the vaccines or one of their components, are determined through reports issued by the ministry.
Ministry of Commerce spokesman Abdulrahman Al-Husain said that more than 1 million commercial establishments had followed health precautions to only admit immune customers on the first day that all residents in the Kingdom were required to have had at least one dose or have recovered from COVID-19 in order to enter commercial, government, private and public establishments.
On Sunday there were 1,084 new cases recorded in the Kingdom, bringing the total to 526,814.
There were 1,285 new recoveries, taking this total to 507,374, while 12 new deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 8,249. More than 25.12 million PCR tests have been conducted so far.


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Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili received Chief of Staff of Bahrain Defense Force Lt. Gen. Dhiyab bin Saqr Al-Nuaimi, and his accompanying delegation, at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh on Sunday.

During the meeting, they exchanged military views and discussed issues of common interest, stressing the strength of relations and ways to achieve the shared goals of the armed forces of the two countries.

Saudi Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Mutlaq bin Salem Al-Azima, who is also the acting commander of the joint forces, then accompanied Al-Nuaimi on a visit to the Joint Forces Command and briefed him on the progress of the operations led by the Arab coalition forces to support legitimacy in Yemen.

They also discussed ways to support and enhance these to ensure regional security and stability.

Maj. Gen. Turki bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, commander of the Royal Saudi Air Forces, also received Al-Nuaimi in the Air Force Command. During the meeting, they discussed many issues of common interest.

 

 

 


Who’s Who: Abdullah Saud Al-Hammad, deputy minister at Saudi Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing 

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Updated 02 August 2021

Who’s Who: Abdullah Saud Al-Hammad, deputy minister at Saudi Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing 

Who’s Who: Abdullah Saud Al-Hammad, deputy minister at Saudi Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing 

Abdullah Saud Al-Hammad has been the deputy minister for land and survey at the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing since June 2021.

He has been a board member of the Real Estate General Authority, the Saudi Authority for Accredited Valuers and the Off-Plan Sales and Rent Committee (Wafi) since November 2020. He has also been a supervisor of the Idle Lands Program since September 2019.

Prior to that, Al-Hammad was assistant to the deputy minister for land at the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing from September 2019 to June 2021.

He served in several positions at the ministry, working as assistant to the deputy minister for technical affairs from December 2018 to September 2019 and as director of the project management office from January 2018 to December 2018.

From January 2017 to January 2018, Al-Hammad was program manager at the ministry, serving as director of the Eastern Province projects and Alkhobar housing project and as an architectural engineer.

Al-Hammad is passionate about architecture, which is his specialty, and is currently a member of the advisory board of the department of architecture and building sciences at the College of Architecture and Planning at King Saud University.

His areas of interest include digital transformation, and he contributed to transforming the customer experience for one of the products of the Sakani Program into an integrated electronic journey that reduces the process from six months to five minutes. He aspires to transfer the experience to the municipal sector.

Al-Hammad received a bachelor’s degree in architecture and building science from King Saud University in August 2010 and completed the executive leadership development program from Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning in November 2020.