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.
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.