How Saudi Arabia is building the foundation of a year-round tourist destination

Special How Saudi Arabia is building the foundation of a year-round tourist destination
AlUla oasis offers visitors some much-needed respite from the sweltering heat. (RCU)
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Updated 11 August 2023
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How Saudi Arabia is building the foundation of a year-round tourist destination

How Saudi Arabia is building the foundation of a year-round tourist destination
  • The Kingdom’s tourism industry is flourishing, with visitor numbers outstripping pre-pandemic levels
  • International travel agencies are offering tailor-made packages sampling its natural and cultural highlights

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is tapping its potential of becoming a major international tourism hub, attracting increasing numbers of foreign visitors seeking a unique travel experience at any time of the year.

The Kingdom’s tourism industry has enjoyed a swift rebound since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a worldwide halt to travel. In fact, not only has the Saudi tourism sector recovered, it has grown.

International travel agencies are arranging trips to the country’s numerous attractions, from Umluj, known as the “Maldives of Saudi Arabia,” to the ancient oasis city AlUla and the cool mountainous Soudah area of the southern Asir region.

In May, Riyadh launched the “Rethink Summer” campaign to promote the Kingdom as a year-round destination.




In just a few short years, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that it has a lot to offer tourists who might not otherwise have considered the Kingdom as an enticing place to vacation. (Shutterstock)

“Saudi is glorious in the summer and all year round,” Abdullah Al-Dakhil, a spokesperson for the Saudi Tourism Authority, told Arab News.

“Our ‘Rethink Summer — Visit Saudi’ campaign is encouraging people to visit the Kingdom to experience its dynamic and diverse locations, including the cool, green Asir region, where an eight-week cultural festival is running until Sept. 1,” he added.

“Saudi Arabia is leading the way as the world’s biggest investor in tourism, committing $550 billion to new destinations alone by 2030.

“The investment is paying off with the country receiving an impressive 94 million plus visits in 2022 and total tourism spend amounting to SR185 billion ($49.3 billion), an increase of 93 percent compared to 2021, while 2023 has also seen record visitor growth.

“These figures are excellent news for Saudi tourism and clearly show huge opportunities lie ahead with Saudi firmly on the map as a must-visit destination for international tourists.”

In July, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Saudi Arabia’s minister of tourism, noted that the Kingdom’s travel and tourism market had grown 12 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.




Tourism currently makes up 2-3 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. (RCA)

Tourism currently makes up 2-3 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. In June, at the France-Saudi Investment Forum in Paris, Al-Khateeb revealed that Saudi Arabia aims to increase tourism’s contribution to 10 percent of its GDP.

One popular destination is AlUla. Saudi Arabia created the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2017 to develop the region into a living, open museum, featuring luxury hotel options.

According to its official website, the RCU aims to “protect and regenerate the natural beauty of AlUla’s unique geological landscape and reaffirm its position as one of Saudi Arabia’s most important archeological and cultural areas.”

Rapid strides have been made in the ensuing six years. According to the RCU, the total number of flights to the historic attraction increased by 64 percent between April and June, while the total number of passengers increased by 74 percent.

AlUla is a sought-after retreat for city-dwellers since it offers a tranquil place where they can relax and enjoy some much-needed respite from the sweltering heat.

The RCU has created a three-day itinerary for this summer. It is designed for visitors to experience some of the region’s highlights, including the sites of Hegra, Dadan, Jabal Ikhmah, and Harrat viewpoint, among others.

Visitors can also enjoy a helicopter tour of the region’s picturesque heritage sites, strolls around the vibrant Al-Jadidah Arts District, and even stargaze in the vast desert.

FASTFACTS

• From April to June, flights to AlUla increased by 64%.

• Saudi tourism market up 12% on pre-pandemic figures.

• Tourism contributes 2-3% to Saudi Arabia’s GDP.

• Aim to increase tourism’s GDP contribution to 10%.

Melanie de Souza, executive director of destination marketing at the RCU, said the increasing number of packages and programs for travelers wishing to visit the ancient oasis city over the summer and in September is reflective of the tourism sector’s overall growth in recent years.

AlUla “is fast becoming a year-round destination,” de Souza told Arab News.

That is partially thanks to its more temperate climate compared to other Gulf locations. Humidity in the region is low and summer temperatures are cooler compared to the capital Riyadh and major cities next door in the UAE.

“Our ambition is very much for AlUla to be a year-round destination,” said de Souza.

“We do have quite hot temperatures during the middle of the day, but there are places that are at least 5 C cooler than other places in the GCC area, plus or minus humidity. And we do have some of the most blissful mornings and late evenings.”

Even during those parts of the day when the heat can feel unbearable, there are alternative indoor activities visitors can enjoy. De Souza said there are “wellness packages” in “stunning settings” such as “Habitas AlUla and Banyan Tree in Ashar Valley.”

She also noted that visitors can enjoy activities and trips tailored to their preferences and interests. “For us, it is about recognizing in terms of itinerary planning,” she said.




The Kingdom’s tourism industry has bounced back after the pandemic, offering attractions, inlcuding regional cuisines. (RCA)

For example, many visitors may spend early mornings and late evenings enjoying outdoor experiences and then retreat during the hottest times of the day to places like the oasis, luxury spas or to enjoy one of the many indoor events on offer.

Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s varied topography, there are numerous beaches, mountains, and even forests with cooler temperatures that visitors can still enjoy during the hotter summer months.

Coastal sea breezes also make the climate more tolerable during the hotter summer months, as do many of the water activities, such as snorkeling and scuba diving.

Those less familiar with Saudi Arabia’s varied landscape will not likely have heard of Abha, the provincial capital of the Asir region.

Situated at 2,200 meters above sea level between the Sarawat Mountains, Abha is a gem, not just for its more temperate climate but for its myriad natural wonders and heritage, including the ancient village of Rijal Almaa, which features unique stone castles.

“With its light breezes, refreshing fog, and lush mountains, Asir is a summer haven for travelers as temperatures rise globally — and we expect to see its popularity as a destination continue to grow,” said Al-Dakhil of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

The juniper tree-covered Soudah mountain region is the Kingdom’s highest point at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Its snowy peaks make it popular for paragliding and skydiving, while its trails make it appealing for cyclists and hikers.




From cultural experiences culinary journeys and adventures in nature Saudi Arabia offers activities and attractions to suit every taste at any time of the year. (Shutterstock)

There is also Wadi Disah — the valley of palm trees — an enchanting secluded natural wonder in the mountainous region of the northern Tabuk province, which also features rare archeological sites, including carvings and tombs in the sandstone.

Taif is another region suitable for those seeking cooler weather in the summer. Its average temperature in the summer ranges between 26 and 36 C. The city is located on the eastern side of the Sarawat Mountains, where visitors can hike and enjoy the natural environment.

Another summer getaway is the southwestern city of Al-Baha. Also situated within the Sarawat Mountains, visitors can explore the 400-year-old village of Thee Ain and immerse themselves in Saudi heritage, culture, and mesmerizing natural landscape.

In just a few short years, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that it has a lot to offer tourists who might not otherwise have considered the Kingdom as an enticing place to vacation.

Its success in attracting a wider variety of tourists will further benefit the sector and help the Kingdom achieve its stated goal of diversifying its economy in line with the Vision 2030 reform agenda.


300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah

300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah
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300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah

300 tons of Zamzam supplied daily in Madinah
  • To ensure that Zamzam water is safe, a specialized technical staff takes more than 80 samples daily and examines them with the latest equipment

RIYADH: The General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque exerts all efforts to provide Zamzam water at the Prophet’s Mosque so that worshippers and visitors can enjoy the blessed water.

The authority supplies 300 tons of Zamzam water, brought daily from Makkah to the mosque in Madinah on bowsers equipped for this purpose, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

To ensure that Zamzam water is safe, a specialized technical staff takes more than 80 samples daily and examines them with the latest equipment.

Meanwhile, Zamazemah Co. and the Coordination Council for Institutions and Companies Serving Domestic Pilgrims (Mutahed) signed a memorandum to provide Zamzam water bottles to domestic pilgrims during Hajj.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat attended the signing. This agreement aims to ensure high-quality services for pilgrims.


Saudi Arabia a ‘faithful friend’ of Cameroon, says envoy

Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 8 min 44 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia a ‘faithful friend’ of Cameroon, says envoy

Cameroon celebrates its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • Cameroon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia said that cooperation between his country and the Kingdom has “continued to deepen over the decades”

RIYADH: Cameroon has celebrated its national day at a diplomatic event in Riyadh, with the country’s ambassador hailing Saudi Arabia as a “faithful friend.”

Iya Tidjani, speaking at a reception on Monday in the Saudi capital to mark Cameroon’s 52nd national day, said that cooperation between his country and the Kingdom has “continued to deepen over the decades.”

Riyadh Mayor Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Ayyaf was the guest at the reception, which was attended by diplomats in Riyadh, Saudi officials and businessmen, the Cameroonian community and embassy staff.

“Since 1966, the year of establishment of relations between the two countries, these ties have continued to deepen and diversify to the mutual benefit of both countries,” Tidjani said.

The ambassador praised Saudi Arabia for sending medical missions every year to support the Cameroonian health sector.

“Our government also expresses sincere thanks to Saudi Arabia for their laudable efforts for the Hajj, both in terms of organization and infrastructure,” he added.

In 2019, the Great Mosque of Maroua in northern Cameroon was inaugurated, built with the support of Saudi Arabia.

The mosque can accommodate up to 5,000 worshipers and is “considered one of the most beautiful achievements in mosque construction in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Tidjani.

The ambassador highlighted Cameroon’s battle against the Boko Haram militant organization, describing Saudi Arabia as a “friend and a major player … as can be seen from its role in the fight against terrorism.”

He added: “Cameroon and Saudi Arabia share similar views on international issues and Cameroon joins the international community to support Saudi Arabia in its effort toward peace in the Middle East and beyond.”

Cameroon’s national day on May 20 saw citizens celebrate the “unity, peace and stability of a country firmly committed to the path of emergence,” the embassy said in a statement.


Saudi center maps 246 areas to fight desertification

Saudi center maps 246 areas to fight desertification
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi center maps 246 areas to fight desertification

Saudi center maps 246 areas to fight desertification

RIYADH: The National Center for Vegetation Development and Combating Desertification has completed a significant step in its fight against desertification: the first phase of a project to assess the state of land degradation across the Kingdom, resulting in the creation of 246 detailed maps.

These maps provide valuable insight into desertification trends and the current state of land degradation in different regions, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The center’s teams conducted extensive studies to better understand the processes of desertification and land degradation and to identify effective strategies to combat them.

The project combined cutting-edge technologies and traditional methods to gather data, including geographic information systems, remote sensing techniques, and field surveys.

Fieldwork included collecting soil samples for analysis, studying plant life at designated sites, and analyzing satellite imagery.

The center has launched the second phase of the project, starting in the Riyadh region. During this phase, it will focus on identifying areas most vulnerable to desertification, classifying the causes and types of land degradation, and conducting further field surveys to gather more detailed data.


Arab innovators shine in space exploration contest

Arab innovators shine in space exploration contest
Updated 21 May 2024
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Arab innovators shine in space exploration contest

Arab innovators shine in space exploration contest
  • Saudi Space Agency awards 10 winners in arts, botany, engineering

RIYADH: The Saudi Space Agency wrapped up its Space Madak competition on Tuesday by awarding 10 winning contestants prizes for their arts, botany and engineering projects.

Hailing from seven Arab countries, the winners were revealed at a ceremony hosted by the agency at the Communications, Space and Technology Commission headquarters in Riyadh.

The event marked the first anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s “Journey to Space” mission and was attended by the agency’s CEO Mohammed Al-Tamimi, officials, experts, and ambassadors from the winning students’ countries.

The competition, engaging ambitious Arab students, showcased their enthusiasm for space exploration and skills development.

The panel of judges comprised scientists, experts and space enthusiasts.

Following rigorous evaluation rounds, the top 10 contenders were chosen for their exceptional contributions.

In the arts category, winners included Yamen Al-Zaabi from Jordan, Preeti Sami from Egypt, Jawaher Farhan from Bahrain, Rafqa Mansour from Lebanon, and Aline Al-Issa from Saudi Arabia.

Sadan Al-Dosari from Saudi Arabia, Hooriya Basheikh from Morocco, and Fatima Al-Khabouriah from Oman won in the botany category.

Engineering-category winners were Abdulrahman Qattan from Saudi Arabia and Yara Reda from Syria.

The ceremony celebrated the winners and acknowledged the creative endeavors of more than 50 finalists, chosen from a pool of 80,000 submissions vying for prizes totaling SR500,000 ($133,320).

The winning projects will be showcased on the International Space Station, offering an opportunity to advance research, development, and innovation in space exploration while enriching Arab contributions in this field.

The competition represents a significant milestone in the Saudi Space Agency’s mission to support research, development, and innovation within the domain of space exploration.

With a focus on nurturing creative thinking among Arab students, the initiative aims to ignite curiosity about space and inspire breakthroughs in this burgeoning field.

The space mission, carried out by astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni, included 14 pioneering scientific experiments.

According to a press release issued by the agency, the mission was a part of the “Saudi Toward Space” program, aligning with the Kingdom’s focus on research, development and innovation driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Al-Tamimi praised the achievements of the SSA-HSF1, or Saudi Space Agency-Human Space Flight 1, mission. This was a major milestone in the Kingdom’s journey toward leadership in the space sector.

He said there were 14 research experiments conducted in microgravity, yielding valuable contributions to research, development and innovation.

Al-Tamimi said the mission helped foster national expertise and enhance cooperation with leading international institutions.

He added that the agency remained committed to supporting innovative projects.


Manga International launches in Tokyo to showcase Saudi creativity on global stage

Manga International launches in Tokyo to showcase Saudi creativity on global stage
Updated 21 May 2024
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Manga International launches in Tokyo to showcase Saudi creativity on global stage

Manga International launches in Tokyo to showcase Saudi creativity on global stage

RIYADH: In a move to bolster its international presence, Manga Arabia, a subsidiary of the Saudi Research and Media Group, announced the launch of Manga International at a ceremony in Tokyo, Japan.

The event drew in prominent officials and media representatives from Saudi Arabia and Japan, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

This expansion follows a series of successful partnerships and agreements with major Japanese manga publishers, such as Kodansha, Shueisha, Kadokawa, Shogakukan, and Hakusensha.

Manga Arabia has a strong track record in the Arab world, having launched two manga magazines — one for children and another for young adults — in both print and digital formats.

The company reaches over 8 million users in 195 countries, with a print distribution network of 220 points in the Arab world, selling over 400,000 copies monthly.

SRMG CEO Jomana Al-Rashid highlighted the significance of this international foray.

“We are strategically expanding through partnerships with leading manga companies and establishing a legal framework equipped with cutting-edge technologies,” she said.

“This will not only generate financial returns but also nurture an educational environment catering to the immense global demand for this content,” Al-Rashid added, emphasizing how this geographic and cultural expansion will help combat content piracy and intellectual property theft.

Manga Arabia and Manga International CEO Essam Bukhary said: “Through the art of manga and creative industries, we have achieved remarkable success in the Arab world, earning the trust of our Japanese and international partners. Now, under the umbrella of SRMG, Manga International seeks to leverage our pioneering experience and development in global markets.”

Bukhary elaborated on plans to translate and produce a range of comic stories targeting international audiences.

He added that the expansion signifies a qualitative leap for Saudi and Arab creativity on the world stage, aligning with Manga Arabia’s vision of empowering imagination, nurturing and developing Arabic content, and delivering it to a global audience across all demographics and generations.

Building on this commitment, Manga Arabia has already translated several of its comic stories into English, Chinese, and Malay for international markets.

Collaborating with the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission, it has also adapted a selection of Saudi novels into manga format, aiming to reach diverse audiences and present Saudi literature and culture through the lens of manga.