Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say

Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say
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RCU booth in Saudi pavilion at WTM. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say
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RCU booth in Saudi pavilion at WTM. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Updated 14 November 2023

Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say

Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say
  • The UNESCO World Heritage Site is becoming one of the Kingdom’s top tourist destinations but a top Royal Commission for AlUla official tells Arab News ‘We’re growing responsibly’
  • The commission took part in the World Travel Market in London last week where, for the first time, it had its own booth within the Kingdom’s pavilion at the event

LONDON: The ancient Saudi city of AlUla is rapidly becoming one of the Kingdom’s top destinations for local and international travelers, officials say, but mass tourism is not their top priority.
“We are growing, and we are growing very fast (but) part of our mission is to respond to sustainable and responsible tourism,” Rami Al-Moallim, vice president of the destination management and marketing office at Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News. “We are not yet open for mass tourism, and it is not the focus.
“We need people to experience AlUla, to feel AlUla, to enjoy AlUla, to have unforgettable memories in AlUla, so we’re growing responsibly.”
In terms of targets, he said the aim this year was to attract 250,000 visitors, which is already being achieved, and 292,000 next year.
“We believe this steady growth will be reached very soon (and) we are (targeting) around 1.2 million visitors by 2030,” Al-Moallim said. “We are growing steadily year over year (and providing) very good experiences for people to enjoy.”
The commission took part in the World Travel Market in London last week. It was the second time it has participated in the annual event under the banner of the Saudi Tourism Authority but the first in which it had a separate booth within the Kingdom’s pavilion.
According to Al-Moallim, the decision to expand its presence at the event this year was made because of the growing interest in AlUla in the international travel market, its increased tourism capacities, higher direct investments from travel partners, including hotel operators and activity providers, and greater numbers of partners who want to showcase what they offer.
The commission’s booth, which was larger than the entire presence of some countries at the event, showcased eight partners in particular, including hotel companies; Live Nation, which manages the Maraya concert hall; and tours and tourism operators Hero Adventure Experiences, Pangea Club and Warrior for Adventures.
The main established hospitality partners in AlUla, which is in Madinah province, currently include Habitas, Banyan Tree, Shaden and Cloud7, Al-Moallim said, but in London the commission also showcased new collaborators, including Dar Tantoura, an eco-friendly boutique hotel with 30 rooms. As plans for hospitality and accommodation in AlUla continue to expand, more will follow soon, he added.
“Dar Tantora will be followed by Hegra Heritage Boutique Hotel, which is another 30-room hotel, in Hegra, then Autograph Collection is also coming in 2025, followed by Six Senses in 2026,” Al-Moallim said.
“In addition to that, Cloud7 is (working on) an expansion currently to double the room capacity by this year-end.”
From an environmental perspective, the four pillars of sustainability — social, human, economic and environmental — are at the heart of the commission’s operations, he added, and it has adopted several initiatives under the banner of the Saudi Green Initiative.
“The newest project that we have, which is the Experiential Tram, is a low-carbon-emission tramway (covering a distance) of 22 kilometers,” Al-Moallim said. “It has 17 stations, so it takes you from the north to the south of AlUla, visiting the whole Journey Through Time master plan.”
On the social and economic fronts, he added, the Madrasat Addeera initiative offers workshops on handicrafts, art and education, with the aim of preserving and reviving local culture, heritage and traditions.
“Looking at the numbers and the key source markets, of course (Saudi Arabia) and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) markets are the key for us” he said, adding that 72 percent of tourists who visited only AlUla in the Kingdom in 2022 came from these areas.
The rest of the world therefore accounted for 28 percent of visitors last year, with 11 percent from Europe alone, Al-Moallim said. The UK was a major source market, followed by France, Italy and Germany. Places outside of Europe, including the US and China, were lower on the list.
Antony Doucet, chief experience officer at Kerten Hospitality, participated in the World Travel Market, where he represented AlUla’s Dar Tantora House Hotel and the Cloud7 Residence. The latter opened in December last year and is set to increase its capacity to 300 rooms, which will make it the largest hotel in AlUla, while the former is set to open on Jan. 15, with 30 keys, he said.
“We don’t like to call (Dar Tantora) a hotel, rather a ‘hospitality experience’ because we’re inviting people to slow down and go back through different times of AlUla,” he said.
It will have a community and cultural manager, Doucet said, who can suggest activities inside and outside the hotel for visitors during their stay, culinary experiences that offer a chance to try traditional Saudi cuisine with a modern twist, and a spa that explores Arabian beauty secrets using natural ingredients from the area, including Peregrina oil.
“It’s also a very personalized and custom-made experience,” he added, as guest will be contacted a week before arrival to help staff better understand the purposes of their stay, their personalities, and their tastes in music and literature.
“It’s also important to note that we have limited electricity,” said Doucet. “We will have only two electric plugs per room, no air conditioning but natural ventilation, and we will be, I think, the first hotel to have drinkable water from the tap,” which will be purified on site.
This reflects the hotel’s commitment to sustainable tourism in AlUla and to the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, he added.
Art will also play an important role at Dar Tantora, where a unique art collection, including bespoke pieces currently being created, will be on display. In addition, it will offer about 10 retail spaces.
Husaak Adventures was one of the tour operators promoting its activities in AlUla during the event in London where, for a second year, it was part of the Kingdom’s pavilion.
The company is an “activator” that works with the Royal Commission and other Saudi government entities to create a range of experiences and services, said Nikki McDonnell, its director of sales and marketing. These include hiking and mountain-biking trails, “glamping” resorts, visitor centers, accommodation solutions, stargazing events, and other adventures and cultural experiences designed to appeal to local and international visitors.
The Saudi-registered business was founded about 10 years ago when there were relatively few tourists or any significant adventure-tourism sector in the region, she said, but now the Kingdom has become a “pioneer” in the field, and the growth and “development they have had in the last couple of years is amazing, and there’s so much opportunity to develop further jewels of Saudi Arabia.”
She added: “We have since developed, and now we offer, over 14 different daily experiences for visitors, as well as the glamping and accommodation solutions that offer affordable accommodation within what is known as a luxury destination.”
AlUla has incredible history, McDonnell said, and one of its key tourist attractions is the ancient Incense Road in Hegra, also known as Mada’in Saleh.
“There’s a big misconception that Saudi Arabia is very hot and it’s only a seasonal destination — it’s not,” she said. The climate and landscape are so diverse that travelers can visit all year round to explore the country’s “rich heritage,” she added.
McDonnell said part of Husaak’s focus is on increasing consumer awareness of AlUla, so while it works with other destination-management and travel companies to package its experiences and programs for visitors, it also carries out a lot of digital marketing in its own right.
“We are on Tripadvisor, our glamping is on, we invest in Google heavily to target visitors before they come into the country, (we are) on social media to drive our traffic, and we also advertise annually with National Geographic,” she said.
“Can we develop more experiences, more unforgettable experiences? Yes, and that’s our goal as a company, just to continue to drive and build those experiences and build a legacy for visitors.”
Imad Sulaiman, the general manager of Athaar Arabia, a pioneering destination-management company in the Kingdom, said: “Despite the COVID years, Saudi Arabia is an amazing destination, and with Vision 2030 announcing the (introduction of the) tourist visa, (the country) has strongly found its way onto the tourist map around the world, so this has been a very good achievement over the past three years.
“We are lucky because everybody is talking about Saudi Arabia; the gigaprojects, sports activities and other huge efforts which the Saudi Tourism Authority is doing with other stakeholders … to show Saudi Arabia to the world. They went beyond our expectations.”
Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb announced at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh this month an increased target of attracting 150 million tourists a year by 2030. Sulaiman said it is a target that can “be achieved because Saudi Arabia is a new destination to travelers” and is attracting a lot of interest due to the massive development projects that are helping to support businesses in the tourism sector.
“I call Saudi Arabia a hidden jewel because it’s not shown to the world,” he said, but now “we have a huge demand from different tour operators requesting different types of business or traveler packages to their clients,” from high-end experiences to adventure holidays.
Thanks to the “good news” about the Kingdom’s potential and in-progress bids to host World Expo 2030, the 2034 FIFA World Cup and the Winter Olympics, together with the major sporting events it already hosts, including Formula One and Formula E, “all these projects give us big power to work hard to be able to achieve this target,” Sulaiman said.
He added that he is “proud of all these things” because he worked in the sector in the days before Vision 2030, and all the developments that have followed since it was announced in 2016 have been “beyond our expectation — it’s amazing.”

NEOM announces new tourism escape Siranna 

NEOM announces new tourism escape Siranna 
Updated 7 sec ago

NEOM announces new tourism escape Siranna 

NEOM announces new tourism escape Siranna 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s giga-project NEOM has unveiled its latest sustainable tourism destination, Siranna, featuring a 65-key hotel and 35 exclusive residences. 

Siranna will also feature a beach club, spa, wellness facilities, and horse riding offerings for visitors, according to a press statement.  

“Sophisticated dining and entertainment options will also satisfy a wide range of tastes and interests among guests,” said NEOM in the press statement.  

It added: “The guiding principle underpinning the development is to ensure minimal intervention in nature, where thoughtful and deliberate techniques will be used to preserve the surrounding landscape.” 

Developing the tourism sector is a key agenda of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, as the Kingdom is steadily diversifying its economy away from oil.  

Through its National Tourism Strategy, Saudi Arabia aims to attract 150 million tourists to the Kingdom by the end of this decade – a target revised up from 100 million.

“Aligned with NEOM’s commitment to conservation, Siranna will complement its coastal location and be delivered sustainably,” added NEOM in the press statement.  

Earlier this month, NEOM, which is being developed with a budget of $500 billion, unveiled another tourism destination named Epicon, a new premium spot set along the Gulf of Aqaba. 

Epicon is expected to offer a diverse range of experiences that include leisure activities at a beach club, wellness programs, exploring natural landscapes, and fine dining options. 

The project will also feature two towers, one reaching 225 meters and the other 275 meters in height, encompassing a luxury hotel with 41 high-end tourist apartments and exclusive residential suites. 

Epicon also includes a resort comprising 120 rooms and 45 beachfront villas. 

On Nov. 28, affirming its commitment toward sustainability, NEOM signed multiple memorandums of understanding with Bosch and Bain&Co. to accelerate clean industrial transformation in Oxagon, the industrial facility located within the city.  

In an X post, Oxagon said that these deals with Bosch and Bain&Co. will help Oxagon “harness the expertise of each organization to shape the future of manufacturing through investments in innovation, technology and talent development.”  

Brazilian meatpacker JBS mulls more investments in Saudi Arabia

Brazilian meatpacker JBS mulls more investments in Saudi Arabia
Updated 29 min 8 sec ago

Brazilian meatpacker JBS mulls more investments in Saudi Arabia

Brazilian meatpacker JBS mulls more investments in Saudi Arabia

SAO PAULO: J&F, parent company of food processor JBS SA, said on Tuesday the meat giant is mulling new investments in Saudi Arabia as a Brazilian government delegation that includes President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva meets local officials to boost business ties, according to Reuters.

“Every day we become more interested in exploring the possibility of making much more relevant investments than we had been thinking about in the past,” Wesley Batista, a member of JBS’ founding family, said from Riyadh, according to the statement.

J&F, which has interests in the food, mining, pulp, paper and energy sectors, said JBS has a plant in Damman and another unit under construction in Jeddah.

Once the Jeddah facility is operational, JBS will boost capacity in Saudi Arabia to 40,000 tons of processed chicken products per year, four times current levels, J&F said.

Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East and Brazil’s main trading partner in the region, with bilateral transactions worth more than $8 billion in 2022, J&F said.

Brazil, the world’s top exporter of halal meats that are produced according to Muslim dietary requirements, is home to some of the planet’s most efficient meat exporters.

BRF, Minerva and Marfrig also sell products in the Gulf region and represent fierce competition to JBS.

“The food sector is our main area of ​​cooperation,” Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of investment, was quoted as saying in J&F’s statement.

He said Saudi Arabia wants to achieve “food security” and become a “global hub” the meat sector. 

Oil Updates – crude steady, market eyes OPEC+ meet, weighs weak demand indicators

Oil Updates – crude steady, market eyes OPEC+ meet, weighs weak demand indicators
Updated 30 November 2023

Oil Updates – crude steady, market eyes OPEC+ meet, weighs weak demand indicators

Oil Updates – crude steady, market eyes OPEC+ meet, weighs weak demand indicators

SINGAPORE: Oil was little changed on Thursday as investors remained cautious ahead of expected production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, and as weaker-than-expected Chinese factory data underscored slowing growth in the world’s second largest economy, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures fell 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $82.95 a barrel by 7:45 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 12 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $77.98 a barrel.

Oil markets in the previous session found support from hopes of some form of a price-supportive resolution from the OPEC+ group, which includes Russia.

Members of the alliance are due to hold a policy meeting on Thursday. Talks ahead of the meeting were focusing on additional production cuts, although details were yet to be agreed, sources close to the group told Reuters.

“The countdown to the upcoming OPEC+ meeting is now underway, and that has been the central focus for oil prices, as market participants have been shrugging off any bearish news in the way for now,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist at IG.

“We have a larger-than-expected build-up in crude inventories from the EIA data, along with a downside surprise in China’s PMI figures this morning. Both may support a narrower supply-demand deficit, but failed to cause much dent in prices,” Yeap added.

China’s manufacturing activity contracted for a second straight month in November and at a quicker pace than expected, an official factory survey showed on Thursday, suggesting more policy support measures are needed to help shore up economic growth in the world’s largest oil importer.

The official purchasing managers’ index fell to 49.4 in November from 49.5 in October, staying below the 50-point level demarcating contraction from expansion. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 49.7.

Meanwhile, the US Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported a surprise build in US crude oil and distillate fuel stocks last week, indicating weak demand. Gasoline stocks also rose by more than expected, the data showed.

“The market ignored what was a relatively bearish inventory report from the EIA,” said analysts from ING, adding that all eyes are on the OPEC+ meeting.

“Adding to the uncertainty from the meeting is that it is still not clear if the group has been able to resolve a disagreement over Angolan and Nigerian production targets for next year,” the analysts said.

African members of OPEC+ producer group Angola and Nigeria are aiming for higher oil output, officials had told Reuters. 

Saudi Arabia to spearhead green development vision with forum during COP28

Saudi Arabia to spearhead green development vision with forum during COP28
Updated 35 min 51 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to spearhead green development vision with forum during COP28

Saudi Arabia to spearhead green development vision with forum during COP28
  • Saudi Green Initiative Forum to gather influential figures, climate experts and thought leaders to present their insights and recommendations for tackling climate change

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is committing itself to a sustainable and green future through a variety of initiatives, with one of the most high-profile set to be held at the upcoming climate conference in Dubai.

Alongside the UN’s COP28 summit, the Kingdom will host the third edition of the Saudi Green Initiative Forum on Dec. 4 to highlight its dedication to build a greener future at a time of multibillion dollar giga-projects.

The event will gather influential figures, climate experts and thought leaders to present their insights and recommendations for tackling climate change.

It will also offer a platform to showcase the ambitions and achievements thus far of the SGI, launched in 2021 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.



Established under the Vision 2030 initiative, SGI is an ambitious national plan focused on combating climate change, protecting the environment for future generations and improving the quality of life in the Kingdom.

It unites all the efforts towards Saudi Arabia’s mission of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 through the creation of a circular carbon economy. The Kingdom has also pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 278 million tons annually by 2030.

To achieve such aims, the Kingdom has committed itself to “greening,” which involves the development of an integrated system of conservation and afforestation strategies for the country’s various natural landscapes.

According to the website of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, greening is set to “increase Saudi Arabia’s reliance on clean energy, offset carbon emissions, and protect the environment. It aims to improve quality of life and protect future generations.”

By 2030 Saudi Arabia plans to plant 600 million trees, restore 3.8 million hectares of land and champion biodiversity conservation as part of its 10-billion-tree initiative.

Additionally, as part of this greening initiative, SGI aims to develop an integrated system of conservation and afforestation strategies targeted at the Kingdom's diverse natural landscapes.

The task of overseeing the realization of the greening project has been entrusted to the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification.

“The NCVC is dedicated to expanding vegetation cover, combating desertification, conserving natural resources and biodiversity, safeguarding plant genetic resources, and pioneering the innovative solutions that address our environmental challenges,” Khaled bin Abdullah Al-Abdulkader, the organization’s CEO, told Arab News.

“We collaborate with all sectors including public, private, non-profit and the community to deliver sustainable outcomes,” he said, adding: “The NCVC has developed the strategic roadmap to guide the delivery of 10 billion trees for Saudi Arabia under the SGI. We are now moving from ambition to action, and we invite all innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists and interested parties to join us in our efforts.”

The Kingdom is the world’s second-largest major oil producer after the US. It has committed to driving the Middle East Green Initiative by seeking to unify stakeholders across the region to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region and meet global climate targets.

There are challenges, however, in achieving SGI’s ambitious targets due to Saudi Arabia’s arid landscape. It lacks rivers, lakes and regular rainfall and relies on dozens of facilities to transform water from the Gulf and Red Sea for its residents and the environment.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest country in the world without running surface water and has one of the highest rates of water consumption on the planet.

READ: For our coverage of the Saudi Green Initiative, click here

It has long been crucial and of national importance for the Kingdom to find new sources of potable water to support its growing population, and now it has to reach the targets set out in SGI.

“We will not use any desalination water for plantation,” Ahmad Al-Anazi, who leads the implementation of the National Environment Strategy and an advisor at the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, told Arab News. “We will concentrate on using what they call renewable water for plantations.

The greening initiative, states Alanazi, offers the opportunity to retrieve more drinking water.

“We are responsible for enhancing the vegetation capital of the country overall,” he said, adding: “We are employing specialists to study all possible ways to plant trees and increase vegetation.”

“It’s not only a matter of planting trees,” Alanazi explained, adding: “It is also about how we then sustain the trees for the long term. This is a crucial aspect of sustainability, and we are conducting multiple studies on how to do this in this environment.”

Alanazi told Arab News that numerous experts are helping them achieve the Middle East Green Initiative to plant an additional 40 billion trees across the region.

According to SGI targets, the 10 billion trees earmarked for Saudi Arabia would help to rehabilitate 40 million hectares of land, improve air quality, restore vital ecological functions and reduce sandstorms.

Alanazi said two phases are involved in achieving the goals of the masterplan, with the first set to take place from 2024 to 2040.

“In this phase most of our focus will be on planting in nature, or what we call a natural based solution,” he said, adding: “This phase aims to plant 400 million trees in 3.8 hectares. The second phase is more comprehensive and aggressive and includes all domains and will be set forth from 2030.”

Further wins for Saudi Arabia’s green initiative were announced in early November when a consortium of clean energy leaders – Masdar, EDF Renewables and Nesma Company – announced the signing of a Power Purchase Agreement with the Saudi Power Procurement Company to develop the 1,100 megawatts Al Henakiyah solar power plant.

When operational, the $1 billion project is expected to power more than 190 thousand homes per year and displace more than 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

“As Nesma’s flagship renewables business, Nesma Renewable Energy is intrinsic to our commitment to proactively support the clean energy and sustainability goals of Saudi Vision 2030,” Faisal Al-Turki, president of Nesma Group, said in a statement.

He added: “The Al Henakiyah Solar Project is a resounding endorsement of our position at the forefront of the renewables industry in Saudi Arabia.

“As an industry, we are on an ambitious journey together, and one that will ultimately establish Saudi Arabia as a true global leader in renewable energy generation. This project represents a significant milestone on our way to achieving this.”

The upcoming SGI forum during COP28 offers an opportunity to further address global climate issues while focusing on the Kingdom’s own aims, hurdles and achievements towards its climate goals.

Japan, Saudi agree on investment cooperation

Japan, Saudi agree on investment cooperation
Updated 29 November 2023

Japan, Saudi agree on investment cooperation

Japan, Saudi agree on investment cooperation
  • Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 consists of projects that involve both the public and private sectors
  • Iwata exchanged views with Mubarak on further expanding and deepening the cooperative relationship

TOKYO: State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Iwata Kazuchika has held a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al Mubarak in Tokyo that covered future cooperation and Saudi-Japan Vision 2030.
The two ministers agreed on deepening the economic relationship between Japan and Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reported.
Saudi-Japan Vision 2030, established in 2017, provided the two countries with a strong direction for their strategic partnership, and in the ensuing years many cooperative projects have been undertaken in a range of fields, such as business and culture, the ministry said.
Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 consists of projects that involve both the public and private sectors and contribute to the growth strategies of both countries.
Iwata exchanged views with Mubarak on further expanding and deepening the cooperative relationship based on this vision in fields such as startups and health care.
The talks followed visits to Saudi Arabia by Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in July of this year and Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Nishimura Yasutoshi at the end of last year.