DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s recently announced $15 billion masterplan for the development of AlUla will mean the arrival of some of the world’s most-famous hotel groups in the governorate, as hospitality has been identified as a key investment area in the plan.
“The Journey Through Time Masterplan” — the first in a series of plans for AlUla’s development, which the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) released on April 7 — will include 5,000 hotel rooms, with 1,000 rooms ready for use by 2023 and an overall target of 9,400 rooms by 2035 as part of a wider development strategy for AlUla.
The masterplan covers the core heritage area of AlUla and is being implemented in three phases until 2035, with the first phase set to be completed by 2023.
The total price of the development will be an estimated SR57 billion ($15 billion), out of which SR12 billion ($3.2 billion) is earmarked for primary infrastructure.
“Through The Journey Through Time Masterplan we are developing AlUla’s potential as a destination, a global cultural asset as well as a strong investment,” Wessam Lubbard, chief financial officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News.
“The masterplan presents diverse investment opportunities across multiple asset classes such as landmark cultural projects, social infrastructure, utilities and mobility, hospitality, commercial and residential projects,” he said. “In addition, we have de-risked all future investment by committing our $2 billion seed funding to critical projects in AlUla.”
The RCU believes hospitality is one of the main areas where AlUla’s potential can shine and where partnerships and projects are flourishing at a rapid rate. It is also a sector that can contribute greatly to Saudi Vision 2030 through sustainable growth within the local community.
“We want our hospitality offerings to be a true reflection of the welcoming and warm culture of the local community, rooted in respect for history and nature,” Philip Jones, the RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, told Arab News.
Hotels that already have a presence at AlUla, or are in the midst of building there, include Accor/Banyan Tree, Aman and Habitas. The RCU expects more names to be added to that list soon.
Aman is known for its exclusive properties, many of which are located off the beaten track in exotic destinations, while others can be found in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, such as New York and Tokyo.
Aman’s AlUla Hegra Resort, set to be completed at the end of 2023, will be located in a secluded mountain valley in AlUla’s Nabataean Horizon district near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra. It will comprise 40 luxury villas, a discovery center, a library partially carved into the rock, a subterranean spa and a multi-layered organic orchard celebrating the natural landscape.
“Our partners, including Habitas and Aman, as well as renowned architect Jean Nouvel, have radically different styles but one thing in common — an immersive approach to each destination,” Jones said. “By partnering with world-class brands that understand our landscape, we are creating a destination that puts the visitor experience, as well as the local culture, at the fore.”
The eco-friendly luxury resort chain Habitas is another significant entry to AlUla. The brand, whose flagship location is in Tulum, Mexico — is in the process of building a 100-room property in the desert canyons of AlUla’s Ashar Valley that will incorporate local influences through its music, spa therapies and even astronomy-driven yoga sessions. Importantly, the resort’s modular development will also result in minimal ecological impact.
Accor-run Banyan Tree is expanding its existing Ashar Resort in partnership with RCU within AlUla’s Nabatean Horizon district. The resort will add 47 new villas, bringing its total to 82, in addition to several new restaurants and a spa. The design of the resort is being sensitively devised to complement the striking natural landscape of the Ashar Valley, which is located 15 kilometers from Hegra.
Another great example of RCU’s dedication to and investment in AlUla’s heritage through tourism and hospitality is the building of the first-of-its-kind property by leading architecture firm Atelier Jean Nouvel, which was also responsible for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
The building aims to revive the 2,000-year-old architectural legacy of the ancient Nabataeans, thus bringing back to life an important part of AlUla’s past within a contemporary structure that pays heed to the surrounding ancient rock formations through its sensitively construed architecture and design.
Of principle importance to RCU is investment in the heritage assets and primary infrastructure of AlUla. It has already laid down $2 billion for development projects including the expansion of AlUla International Airport and improvement of security infrastructure, as well as developing key tourism assets including Ashar estate and the Maraya.
The Maraya, a multi-purpose venue that serves as a concert hall and is the world’s largest mirrored building, also calls the Ashar Valley home. Within its mirrored walls, the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie and Lang Lang have all performed during the Winter at Tantora Cultural Festival. The venue is also suitable for large-scale meetings and conferences and hosted the 41st GCC Summit in January 2021, which brought together leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council.