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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Confronting crimes against humanity is route to justice, Saudi official asserts at UN committee meeting

Confronting crimes against humanity is route to justice, Saudi official asserts at UN committee meeting
Updated 17 October 2021

Confronting crimes against humanity is route to justice, Saudi official asserts at UN committee meeting

Confronting crimes against humanity is route to justice, Saudi official asserts at UN committee meeting
  • Mission also reaffirms Kingdom's commitment to help fight illicil financial flow

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia has reiterated that confronting crimes against humanity and combating impunity from punishment is a noble objective to achieve justice and the rule of law because such crimes are among the most dangerous crimes for the international community.

This came during a speech delivered by Nidaa Abu Ali, head of the legal committee in the Kingdom’s permanent delegation at the UN, at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

Abu Ali stressed the need to implement the principle of accountability and put an end to the impunity from punishment of the perpetrators of these crimes. She stressed the Kingdom’s support for justice following the international agreements signed within the framework of the UN Charter and international law.

Regarding draft articles related to crimes against humanity, she said the Kingdom stresses the need to avoid developing new definitions that might cause confusion in interpreting these terms.

In addition, she stressed the importance of unifying the definitions stated in the relevant draft convention such as slavery, torture and forced disappearance of persons, following the relevant international conventions.

Reem Al-Omair, chairperson of the Economic and Financial Committee at the Kingdom’s permanent delegation at the UN, affirmed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows and promote good practices regarding the recovery of financial assets.

Speaking in a general discussion of macroeconomic policies, she said that the programs and initiatives of the Saudi Vision 2030 contributed to enhancing transparency, developing policies and procedures and filling gaps to contain corruption.

Al-Omair said the Kingdom is keen to harness its potential and resources in the service of humanitarian issues in cooperation with the UN, its agencies and organizations and the international community.

Saudi Arabia has reiterated that confronting crimes against humanity and combating impunity from punishment is a noble objective to achieve justice and the rule of law because such crimes are among the most dangerous crimes for the international community.

This came during a speech delivered by Nidaa Abu Ali, head of the legal committee in the Kingdom’s permanent delegation at the UN, at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. Abu Ali stressed the need to implement the principle of accountability and put an end to the impunity from punishment of the perpetrators of these crimes. She stressed the Kingdom’s support for justice following the international agreements signed within the framework of the UN Charter and international law.

Regarding draft articles related to crimes against humanity, she said the Kingdom stresses the need to avoid developing new definitions that might cause confusion in interpreting these terms.

In addition, she stressed the importance of unifying the definitions stated in the relevant draft convention such as slavery, torture and forced disappearance of persons, following the relevant international conventions.

Reem Al-Omair, chairperson of the Economic and Financial Committee at the Kingdom’s permanent delegation at the UN, affirmed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows and promote good practices regarding the recovery of financial assets.

Speaking in a general discussion of macroeconomic policies, she said that the programs and initiatives of the Saudi Vision 2030 contributed to enhancing transparency, developing policies and procedures and filling gaps to contain corruption.

Al-Omair said the Kingdom is keen to harness its potential and resources in the service of humanitarian issues in cooperation with the UN, its agencies and organizations and the international community.


Who’s Who: Fahad Al-Jalajel, Saudi Arabia’s new health minister

Who’s Who: Fahad Al-Jalajel, Saudi Arabia’s new health minister
Updated 17 October 2021

Who’s Who: Fahad Al-Jalajel, Saudi Arabia’s new health minister

Who’s Who: Fahad Al-Jalajel, Saudi Arabia’s new health minister

Fahad Al-Jalajel has been appointed Saudi Arabia’s health minister following a royal decree issued on Friday. He replaces Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabia, who has been appointed minister of Hajj and Umrah.

Al-Jalajel was previously deputy health minister and had been in this role since 2016. He has been a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Red Crescent Authority since May 2017 and a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Food and Drug Authority since July that same year.

He is a member of the executive council of the country’s medical cities, was a council member at the Saudi General Authority for Competition from 2011 to 2018, and a member of the board of directors at Saudia from 2015 to 2017.

Al-Jalajel was a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Grains Authority from 2013 to 2017 and a member of the board of directors at the Human Resources Development Fund from 2011 to 2016.

He was a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (now the Ministry of Investment) from 2014 to 2016 and a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization from 2012 to 2016.

Al-Jalajel was deputy minister for consumer protection at the Ministry of Commerce and Investment from 2011 to 2016 and was also chief information officer and ministerial advisor there.

He was a member of the Riyadh Regional Council from 2010 to 2012 and a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage from 2010 to 2012.

He was a member of the Saudi Energy Efficiency Program, a member of the board of directors at the Jeddah Urban Development Company, and an IT director at SAGIA.

He has a master’s degree in computer and information sciences from St. Joseph’s University in the US. He completed an executive program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from King Saud University.


Food security major objective of Saudi Vision 2030

Food security major objective of Saudi Vision 2030
Updated 17 October 2021

Food security major objective of Saudi Vision 2030

Food security major objective of Saudi Vision 2030
  • Eta’am food bank in KSA has given 100,464 food baskets to 82,653 needy families in Saudi Arabia as of Nov. 30, 2020

RIYADH: Food waste is one of the main issues threatening food security. Several studies have shown that the Kingdom wastes an average of 200-500 kg of food per capita. One of the key objectives of Vision 2030 is thus to implement food security strategies by preventing food waste.

World Food Day is celebrated annually and worldwide on Oct. 16 to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945, which aims to eradicate hunger across the world.

In November 1979, a Hungarian Delegation led by former Hungarian Agriculture Minister Dr. Pal Romany suggested celebrating the day worldwide. It has since been observed every year in more than 150 countries, raising awareness on the issues behind poverty and hunger.

This year’s theme is “Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow.”

Saudi Arabia’s arid lands and scarce water sources limit it from supporting mass-scale agriculture. Other efforts must therefore be made to ensure food security, including scaling up the food system, improving food safety, reducing food waste, lowering food costs, addressing poverty, and promoting healthy dietary patterns, said Mohammed Shamsul Ola, an associate professor at the department of biochemistry, King Saud University, and an associate editor of Saudi Journal of Biological Science and Frontiers in Ophthalmology.

In Saudi Arabia as well as worldwide, approximately a third of food is wasted. This results in considerable economic loss and is detrimental to global food security, he added. 

The Saudi Grains Organization in 2019 reported that almost 33 percent of total food is lost or wasted, which equates to a value of SR12,980 million ($3.5 million) per annum. Most of this waste occurs at the retailer and consumer levels.

The Kingdom’s traditions of hospitality, festivals, and celebrations imply large serving quantities of food that are ultimately not eaten due to poorly planned meals in households and at social events in hotels and restaurants. Ola explained that consumers often order large quantities of food at restaurants but do not finish them. The leftovers end up in the trash.

“Given the global hunger crisis, wasting food is a waste of natural resources that hurts the ecosystem and biodiversity. Consumers should buy food according to a meal plan, adopt better storage methods, and recycle leftover foods. They must ask for a reduced portion of food in restaurants. Doing so, customers can play a vital part in reducing food waste, allowing food to be used for meals rather than ending up in landfills,” said the professor. 

He underlined that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and other government agencies have made significant efforts to reduce food waste by fostering awareness and passing legislation prohibiting food waste, which has resulted in the establishment of various food charity groups and food banks to assist people in need.

Thousands of food banks have been formed worldwide to help those in need, including Eta’am in Saudi Arabia, which has successfully given 100,464 food baskets to 82,653 needy families in the Kingdom as of Nov. 30, 2020.

Winnow Solutions has also aided in the reduction of food waste in Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

The Savola World Program, in collaboration with Saudi Grains Organization and the Saudi Food Bank, has established many online awareness-raising activities, including Eta’am, to minimize food and household waste. In Saudi Arabia, there are roughly 40 food banks that provide door-to-door food collection and distribution services.

Saudi citizens are also taking significant steps to reduce waste and make food available to the poor, including placing large refrigerators in front of their homes and inviting neighbors to donate food.

“World Food Day is celebrated to highlight issues related to global food security and nutrition. According to the FAO, more than 720 million people were hungry in 2020,” Ola told Arab News.

“On this occasion of World Food Day, it is of paramount importance to increase awareness of the worldwide hunger crisis and the reasons behind it and to find solutions to address those issues.”


Saudis welcome COVID-19 rule changes on social gatherings

Saudis welcome COVID-19 rule changes on social gatherings
Updated 17 October 2021

Saudis welcome COVID-19 rule changes on social gatherings

Saudis welcome COVID-19 rule changes on social gatherings
  • Social distancing will no longer be mandatory at social gatherings or in public settings including transport, restaurants, and cinemas

JEDDAH: The generous Saudi spirit has been sorely missed because of COVID-19 restrictions. Weddings, social gatherings, and parties had capacity limits, at times they were banned altogether, due to the spread of the disease.

For the longest time, people felt what functions they were able to have were lifeless and lacking their usual energy because of the cap on numbers and other anti-coronavirus measures.

But with more than 20 million people fully vaccinated and the Kingdom’s immunization campaign continuing at pace, not to mention an Interior Ministry announcement of a change in the rules, gatherings and get-togethers will be making a comeback after more than 18 months of curbs and lockdowns.

The ministry said on Friday the decision was based on the recommendation of health authorities, with precautionary measures on attendance, face masks and social distancing changing from this Sunday, Oct. 17.

There was a sigh of relief from retired school principal Hamid Sadiq Al-Bakri upon hearing the announcement. He had already prepared everything for his son’s wedding party — with a limited number of guests — set to be held next week at one of Jeddah’s wedding halls.

“I feel I’m on top of the world after hearing this decision as it means that my country has succeeded in confronting the unseen enemy of coronavirus,” he told Arab News. “It also means that residents and citizens have been big supporters of the great efforts exerted by the government to mitigate the effects of the pandemic to the least possible levels.”

He said the decision would save him the embarrassment of inviting just a few close family members and even closer friends, as he could now invite as many people as he wanted to help him celebrate such a special occasion.

“We in Saudi Arabia feel happier when all friends and relatives attend our parties and social gatherings. The more guests we receive, the happier we are. The Arabic proverb says: ‘Paradise without people is not worth going to.’ Those who are keen to be with you at your best are those who truly appreciate you.”

Salem Al-Zahrani’s daughter married eight months ago and he had been distraught to see so few relatives attending the wedding.

“If it weren’t for the pandemic and the restricted numbers issued by the authorities, I would have invited over a hundred of my friends and relatives to attend my daughter’s wedding,” he told Arab News. “It is part of our culture that a bride is taken to her husband-to-be accompanied by as many relatives as possible. It is a source of pride to the young girl.”

He said he was lucky that his daughter was wise enough to understand the complexity of the global situation.

“The social fabric of the Saudis is very strong, and that is why we usually see big numbers celebrating a social event. During a wedding party, hosts normally offer the best food they can to honor the family of the girl and those invited.

“With the end of the restriction, Saudis will rejoice and get back to their normal social gatherings during which they can freely gather and happily rejoice. I’m certain they will be careful about their health.”

Face masks will no longer be mandatory in outdoor settings, except for certain specific locations including the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Social distancing will no longer be mandatory at social gatherings or in public settings including transport, restaurants, and cinemas. Wedding halls will also be allowed to return full capacity.

The new rules only apply to those who have been fully vaccinated, which is around 20.6 million people.


Saudi scouts share their experiences with global peers

Saudi scouts share their experiences with global peers
Updated 17 October 2021

Saudi scouts share their experiences with global peers

Saudi scouts share their experiences with global peers

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Scout Association is participating in the International Jamboree on the Air and the International Jamboree on the Internet, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

Members connected with fellow scouts around the world through radio, audio and digital chats, and Morse code.

The Saudi scouts conveyed their experience of supporting the UN’s most prominent international days for October.

They also presented the association’s contribution to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the initiatives undertaken by them to serve the community.

The JOTA and JOTI take place each year in October and connect millions of young people around the world for a weekend of activities that promote friendship and global citizenship online.