AlUla expands with luxury accommodation as demand spikes

The commission aims to expand AlUla into a destination that can meet the standards of the luxury market category. (Shutterstock)
The commission aims to expand AlUla into a destination that can meet the standards of the luxury market category. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 30 March 2022

AlUla expands with luxury accommodation as demand spikes

The commission aims to expand AlUla into a destination that can meet the standards of the luxury market category. (Shutterstock)
  • 2,000 more rooms by 2025, amid 146,000 visitors last year Saudis training as chefs in Paris as 1,600 jobs created for citizens

ALULA: The historic city of AlUla is expanding rapidly to accommodate the needs of the country’s growing tourism industry, including the establishment of new hotels and restaurants, and training up citizens, according to the Royal Commission for AlUla.

“We have a lot of future projects; we have several new hotels coming up. This year, we opened Habitas, and we’ll be opening Banyan Tree at the end of the month. We have three new hotels currently under construction that will be opening by the end of 2022,” the commission’s chief destination marketing officer, Philip Jones, told Arab News.

Banyan Tree AlUla is set to open in the third quarter of 2022 and will be a refurbishment of a previous destination known as Ashar Resort. AlUla has quickly become a favorite travel destination because of its landmarks and seasonal events hosted by the Royal Commission.

HIGHLIGHTS

• 2,000 more rooms by 2025, amid 146,000 visitors last year.

• Saudis training as chefs in Paris as 1,600 jobs created for citizens.

With an expanding list of events, more accommodation is being provided. “We have five new hotels that will be under construction in 2023, including some of the Aman hotels (Swiss multinational hospitality company), and a couple of new brands that will soon be announced,” he said.

Aman will open in 2023 and will be an upscale tented desert camp — a resort that closely complements its natural environment. “That will give us 1,000 keys by the end of 2023, (and) 2,000 keys by the end of 2024, 2025. So we’re making progress,” Jones said.

Describing the future projects, Jones said: “One of the things that we’re very proud of is we expected to have 95,000 visitors by 2021. We ended up with 146,000 … So we’re starting to make our mark and position AlUla as one of the hot up-and-coming boutique cultural heritage destinations globally.”

From hosting some of the world’s biggest names in music and entertainment including Alicia Keys, Lionel Richie, and Andrea Bocelli, AlUla has made a name for itself on the global tourism scene.

“Twenty four percent of visitors who are now coming to AlUla are international visitors. So we have a big number … coming from KSA in the region, but also a significant number coming from around the world,” Jones said.

AlUla Arts, AlUla Skies, Winter at Tantora, and the AlUla Wellness Festival are just a few of the events hosted by the RCU that has welcomed thousands of international and regional travelers.

Jones also said that AlUla citizens are playing a more prominent role in the tourism sector by arranging guided tours, transportation, and accommodation for visitors. “So that’s something we’re excited about because that’s part of the Vision 2030 (which) is training up the local community to be part of the tourism industry, as we go about developing this destination,” he said.

“One of the projects that the Royal Commission has done is they sent a number of locals to be trained as chefs in Paris and elsewhere, so they can come back and bring that knowledge and share it with the local communities,” he said.

“We’re training up the locals for jobs in the tourism industry, I think this year alone across the destination, we will have trained up and engaged about 1,600 locals in jobs in the hospitality sector,” Jones said.

Citizens are also playing a major role in the food and beverage sector of AlUla. Local farmers are producing the products to create the farm-to-table dishes at many restaurants. As a part of the Wellness Festival, the Five Senses Sanctuary sourced its produce from local farms in the surrounding areas.

“A lot of the locals are providing the product. So you have this amazing restaurant on site. And they’re providing the local produce, the citrus, and the dates,” he said. “What we call farm-to-table organic sort of ingredients that are being used, are being sourced locally. And so that’s something that the local community is participating in,” Jones said.

The RCU aims to expand AlUla into a destination that can meet the standards of the luxury market category, while also providing wellness and other experiences in the tranquility of the area’s historic landmarks.


The journey begins: One million Muslims begin first rituals of Hajj 2022

The journey begins: One million Muslims begin first rituals of Hajj 2022
Updated 13 sec ago

The journey begins: One million Muslims begin first rituals of Hajj 2022

The journey begins: One million Muslims begin first rituals of Hajj 2022
  • Kingdom launches massive operation to protect pilgrims’ health and safety

MAKKAH: A million pilgrims began the spiritual journey of a lifetime as the first rituals of the annual Hajj began.

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers circled Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Many held umbrellas to block the sun as the temperature climbed to 42C.

On Thursday, the pilgrims will move to a vast tented city at Mina, about 5 kilometers from the Grand Mosque, ahead of the main rite at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.

Saudi authorities have mounted a massive operation to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims. The Saudi Health Ministry has prepared 23 hospitals and 147 health centres in Makkah and Madinah, the second-holiest city in Islam, to accommodate pilgrims.

Four hospitals and 26 health centers are also ready to treat pilgrims in Mina. There are more than 1,000 beds for patients requiring intensive care and more than 200 specifically for heatstroke patients, and more than 25,000 health workers are ready to respond to cases as they arise.

 “It’s all going well so far. I have moved around a lot and saw rules are being respected,” said Faten Abdel Moneim, 65, a mother of four from Egypt.

Naima Mohsen, 42, also from Egypt, said: “Being here is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t wait for the rest. My only problem is the weather. It’s just too hot.”

FASTFACTS

• The Hajj follows a route Prophet Muhammad walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail.

• The Qur’an says that all Islam’s followers who are physically and financially able should make the pilgrimage once in their lifetime.

One million fully vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year's Hajj, after two years of curtailed numbers because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

In 2019 about some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part in Hajj, but after that the pandemic forced a downsizing. Only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents of the Kingdom took part in 2021, up from a few thousand in 2020.

The restoration of the Hajj stirred bittersweet emotions for pilgrims Sutrisno and Sri Wahyuningsih, two teachers from Indonesia. Sri’s parents were supposed to take part in 2020, but their plans fell victim to the pandemic.

Sri’s father will now never make the journey after he died from a stroke in March, and her mother could not take part because she is over this year’s age limit of 65.

Nevertheless, Sutrisno, 54, and Sri, 51, are joyful at undertaking the Hajj in place of Sri’s parents. “It’s such a huge moral burden to me,” said Sri. “But my mother has given her blessings to me and I have to think that this is a journey I have to go through, everything is Allah’s decision, and I have to go on the Hajj.”


Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces
Updated 07 July 2022

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces

Top officials at Hajj services company sacked, Saudi ministry announces
  • The ministry said the decision came after coordination with the company’s board of directors and was based on the observations of the ministry’s field teams

RIYADH: A chief executive and a top official at “one of the Hajj companies” operating services for this year’s pilgrimage have been sacked, the Saudi ministry responsible for Hajj has announced.

The ministry said the removal was for the failure to provide adequate services to pilgrims, the Saudi Press Agency reported early on Thursday.

The ministry said the decision came after coordination with the company’s board of directors and was based on the observations of the ministry’s field teams.

The statement also said that the two officials were “referred to investigation.”

The Hajj, a key pillar of Islam, will begin on Thursday and involve a million pilgrims from across the globe.

The ministry reiterated that it closely monitors all services provided by all agencies and companies operating during the Hajj season to ensure their quality.

It said that it also “monitors all violations and deals with them immediately” as part of its efforts to follow up on the safety and comfort of pilgrims.

The ministry stressed that it will not allow and will not tolerate any shortcoming that affects the service of pilgrims.

“The ministry’s inspection and field teams carry out continuous tours to assess and follow up the quality of services provided to pilgrims, and deal with reports submitted without exception, in an effort to raise the level of quality of services for pilgrims and maintain their safety,” it concluded.


A brief guide to Hajj 2022: What the pilgrims will do over the next few days

A brief guide to Hajj 2022: What the pilgrims will do over the next few days
Updated 5 min ago

A brief guide to Hajj 2022: What the pilgrims will do over the next few days

A brief guide to Hajj 2022: What the pilgrims will do over the next few days
  • This year one million pilgrims will perform the Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam obligatory for Muslims 
  • Saudi authorities have introduced many technological tools to aid pilgrims on their journey 

JEDDAH: Hajj is an annual religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah undertaken yearly by millions of Muslims worldwide. It occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, called Dhul Hijjah, between the eighth and 13th days of the month.

This year, Hajj takes place from approximately July 7 to 12. Taking part in the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime is a major obligation for all able-bodied Muslims of financial means, and between 2 million and 3 million people participate in the six-day ritual every year.

This year, 1 million pilgrims will flock to the holy city, 85 percent of them traveling from abroad for the first time following a two-year hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant restrictions that prevented them from performing the ritual.

To ensure a smooth and safe journey for the pilgrims, the Saudi government has announced a series of entry conditions.

Pilgrims who wish to perform Hajj must be under 65 years old and fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a booster. They must also present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure for the Kingdom, and priority will go to those who have not performed the ritual before.

Following Prophet Muhammad, for 14 centuries, pilgrims began their journeys in a spiritual state of purity and devotion, also known as Ihram, which is the combined sacred act of Niyyah and Talbiyah necessary to perform Hajj. It is the innate intention to commit an act of worship, while Talbiyah is a special prayer said in supplication to attain Ihram.

After entering Makkah, pilgrims perform the welcome tawaf, circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Black Stone. They then head to the hills of Safa and Marwa, where they perform saee, which is the act of going back and forth between the two hills seven times.

Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Makkah are shown in this slow shutter speed and long exposure shot taken on July 6, 2022. (SPA)

Pilgrims then travel to Mina, an area of 20 square kilometers nearly five kilometers away from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, on the eighth day of Dhul Hijjah, also known as Yom Al-Tarwiyah, where they will stay and fill their day and evening with prayers and supplications, resting and consuming water ahead of their long, perilous journey.

On the second day of Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mt. Arafat, 20 kilometers away. The day is devoted to prayer and supplications as they observe duhr (noon) combined with asr (afternoon) prayers until sunset.

Day of Arafat is considered the most critical day for pilgrims and the millions not performing. It is the day that, “atones for the sins of the preceding and coming (Muslim) year” and is the best day for worship and supplication in the entire year.

After sunset, pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat and make their way to Muzdalifah for isha (night) prayers, collect pebbles no larger than the size of a fingertip ahead of the stoning ritual on the next day, and rest until midnight or dawn, when they will make the long journey back to Mina for the final steps of Hajj, the stoning ritual at Jamarat Al-Aqabah.

A million fully vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed at this year's Hajj  after two years of drastically curtailed numbers amid the pandemic. (AFP) 

On the third day of Hajj, Eid Al-Adha, pilgrims stone the Jamarat Al-Aqabah, or the big pillar, a place where the Prophet Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the devil. After doing so, pilgrims change from their Ihram; sacrificial animals are slaughtered, and men cut or shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length of hair to commemorate the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.

For three days, known as Ayyam Al-Tashreeq, pilgrims stay in Mina and perform the stoning of the other two pillars, Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta and Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra.

With years of preparations ahead of the mass gathering, Saudi Arabia’s authorities undergo major planning every year to control the crowds, dividing a large number of pilgrims into groups and designating specific timings and routes to reach the bridge where the pillars are located.

Thousands of volunteers, military, law enforcement, and health personnel will be on the ground to assist pilgrims in what many believe is their sacred duty to serve the guests of God in the holiest and most sacred of journeys for a Muslim.

Saudi scouts have been assigned to assist the elderly and infirm pilgrims in moving around the holy sites in Makkah to perform the Hajj rituals. (SPA)

Utilizing the power of technologies, Saudi Hajj authorities are including the pilgrims’ smart ID again this year to render the transport of the “visitors of Allah” easier and to ensure their fast arrival to their locations and tents, whether in Mina or Arafat, with robots with touch screens available to explain rituals explained in 11 languages.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the General Authority for Awqaf, launched 13 detailed e-manuals offering advice to pilgrims from around the world on a variety of topics in 14 languages, including French, Turkish, Persian, Urdu, Russian, and Amharic, which are compatible with all phone operating systems and can be reached by visiting guide.haj.gov.sa.

In a video shared on Twitter, the Ministry said: “These guiding e-manuals are interactive, and include Shariah and Islamic law, procedural, organizational and health directives which pilgrims will need during their Hajj journey.”

 


Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah
Updated 06 July 2022

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

Projects launched to develop and uplift holy sites in and around Makkah

MAKKAH: Projects are being launched in and around Makkah to develop and uplift sites through street lighting, seating areas, and walkways.

The CEO of Kidana Development Company, which is behind the initiative, said some areas had already been improved.

“Approximately 20 percent, or 500,000 square meters, have been developed in Mina,” Hatim Mouminah told Arab News. “We are no longer talking about a mere tent but ready-to-live accommodation equipped with integrated services for pilgrims.”

Mouminah said the camps had been developed taking into consideration the highest safety specifications, particularly concerning electricity.

CEO of Kidana Development Company Hatim Mouminah

Kidana has launched a project to improve the areas adjacent to Jabal Al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy) on the plains of Arafat as part of its plans for the holy sites.

The project, which covers 200,000 square meters, is aimed at improving the area’s aesthetics and accessibility for visitors and pilgrims throughout the year and not just during the Hajj season.

It includes street lights, toilets, parking bays, seating areas, and walkways. There will also be restaurants, cafes, platforms for TV channels, and security control towers.

Kidana has also launched the Tsleem Comprehensive Services Center to assist pilgrims, facilitate smooth operations in Mina and Arafat, and provide the necessary services for Hajj stakeholders such as Makkah Municipality, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Civil Defense, the National Water Company, and the Saudi Electricity Company.

Mouminah said Kidana could quickly adopt or upgrade changes to assist pilgrims with the help of qualified contractors because it had access to the designs for the camps and holy sites.

He said the company had completed part of a project to renovate toilets at the holy sites.

“This project is part of a package of development projects that aims to construct 1,000 toilets in Mina and 1,000 toilets in Arafat and Muzdalifah, in addition to maintaining and renovating 30,000 toilets to assure the comfort of pilgrims.”

Mouminah also spoke about the Malik Center, a technical support unit that solves problems at the holy sites by referring them directly to the relevant body.  

The center is run by Saudis who are trained in communication skills and ensure that the task is completed within the shortest time possible.


Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements
Updated 06 July 2022

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements

Diplomats praise Saudi Arabia’s ‘excellent’ Hajj arrangements
  • Kingdom welcomes pilgrims from abroad for largest Hajj since COVID-19 pandemic began

RIYADH: Ambassadors and envoys from across the Muslim world have hailed Saudi Arabia’s hosting of Hajj this year.

Pilgrims from around the world have gathered in Makkah for the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic almost two years ago.

Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020, and 60,000 domestic pilgrims in 2021.

This year, after lifting most of its COVID-19 curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million pilgrims, including 850,000 from abroad to perform Hajj — one of the five pillars of Islam, which all Muslims with the required means must perform once in a lifetime.

Foreign diplomats in Saudi Arabia have praised the Kingdom for its expansive Hajj arrangements this year.

Kazakhstan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Berik Aryn told Arab News: “I would like to congratulate all Muslims on the beginning of Hajj season. We have been waiting for this moment for a long time due to the hiatus during the pandemic.

“From the arrival of the first group of pilgrims, the Saudi government has accomplished an outstanding achievement in providing all facilities in the holy cities for the Hajj. They paid special attention to ensuring the safety and security, and good health of the pilgrims, which is important at this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the envoy.

“On behalf of the Kazakhstan pilgrims, I want to express sincere gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for excellent Hajj arrangements.”

Kazakhstan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Berik Aryn.

Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal said: “All praise be to Allah for allowing us to witness the Hajj 2022 season, the first in the post-pandemic period. I also take this opportunity on behalf of Nigeria to convey our sincere gratitude to the Saudi government and King Salman for the internationally acclaimed decision to organize the Hajj this year, and allow foreign pilgrims to participate. We commend the Saudi authorities for all the preventive measures put in place to safeguard the health of the guests of Allah.

“Nigeria, which will be sending almost 50,000 pilgrims, is excited to make a return to this significant event — a journey of a lifetime,” he said.

“We pray for the success of this annual pilgrimage as we also look forward to a normal pre-pandemic Hajj season next year.”

Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal.

Dato’ Sri Syed Saleh Syed Abdulrahman, head of the Malaysian Hajj delegates in Makkah, told Arab News: “Malaysian pilgrims thank King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for allowing international pilgrims to perform the Hajj this year. We are extremely grateful to the Saudi government for choosing Malaysia once again to be one of the five countries selected for the Makkah Route program this year.

“Malaysia was the first country chosen for Makkah Route’s pilot project in 2017. The Makkah Route program has provided Malaysian pilgrims with excellent service as they are able to arrive in Madinah and Jeddah, easily and quickly. They are able to breeze through the arrival gates at the two airports after the long flight and not have to worry about their luggage either. All Malaysian pilgrims are very satisfied with the service.”

Saudi Arabia has also built and upgraded various infrastructure in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah to enhance the experience of all pilgrims, including Malaysians, during the busy Hajj season, he added.

“We pray for Saudi Arabia’s success in achieving Vision 2030 so it continues to provide the best services to Muslims from all around the world who come to Makkah and Madinah for Umrah and Hajj,” said Abdulrahman.

Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ameer Khurram Rathore praised the leadership of the Kingdom for Hajj preparations. “This year to support and help the pilgrims from Pakistan ‘Route to Makkah’ initiative was very helpful for our Hujjaj coming from Islamabad. It is a manifestation of our brotherly and good relations with Saudi Arabia. Next year, Inshallah, the ‘Route to Makkah’ initiative will be initiated from three major Pakistani cities.”

He added: “The government of Pakistan has developed three digital apps, which will be greatly helpful for our Hujjaj during the pilgrimage.” 

Indian Consul General Mohammed Shahid Alam said: “All Indian pilgrims have arrived in Makkah to perform Hajj. This year, 56,637 pilgrims have come from the Hajj Commission of India, and 22,600 pilgrims through the Hajj group organizers. We have made elaborate arrangements in Makkah and Madinah for their comfortable stay, as well as hassle-free transportation to commute between their accommodation and the Haram. We have made available medical facilities and makeshift hospitals.”

Alam added: “We are deeply thankful to King Salman and the crown prince, as well as the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, for their excellent support to us in making all these arrangements. They have been available round the clock to make the efficient arrangements in time. We extend our sincere gratitude to them for the excellent arrangements they have made for (pilgrims’) safety, enabling them to perform the Hajj smoothly.”

Indian Consul General Mohammed Shahid Alam.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Kingdom Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary said: “I express my deep satisfaction over the Hajj management and thank the king and the crown prince for their continuous support to the Muslim Ummah. Through the wider use of e-Hajj systems, expedited services are ensured. Bangladesh is the fourth largest Hajj pilgrim-sending country and our prospective pilgrims were eagerly waiting to perform Hajj after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Saudi government is allowing 60,000 pilgrims from Bangladesh.

“All our pilgrims completed the immigration process back in Bangladesh under the Makkah Route Initiative. They are receiving their luggage at their hotels, which is a remarkable development for hassle-free movement of these guests of Allah.

“Bangladesh pilgrims who have arrived in Saudi Arabia — we have talked to many of them — have highly praised the Saudi authorities for their arrangements,” said the envoy.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Kingdom Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary.

Head of the office of Thai pilgrims affairs, Zaki Takei, also praised the efforts and services provided by the Saudi government to pilgrims. He said that the Kingdom has “spared no effort” in aiding the visits of pilgrims.