AlUla, in north-western Saudi Arabia and home to the country’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Hegra, prepares for a reopening next month, hot on the heels of two major luxury hospitality announcements from Habitas and Accor.
Royal Commission for AlUla and Habitas have partnered to create an experiential resort in Ashar Valley, AlUla. The resort will consist of 100 luxury, experiential rooms to be developed and operated by Habitas, supporting the Royal Commission for AlUla’s commitment to light-touch tourism and sustainability. Habitas plans to develop a community-inclusive, sustainable hospitality ecosystem in AlUla, with a localised approach to resourcing, training and employment, to support regional trade and artisans by developing sustainable micro-economies.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has started construction of the new community-focused, eco-friendly resort in the desert canyons of Ashar Valley AlUla, with the first phase delivering 50 keys by the first quarter of 2021.
Commenting on this collaboration, Amr AlMadani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla said: “This agreement reflects our commitment to making AlUla a global destination that offers visitors unique, authentic experiences as we protect, share and celebrate our natural and cultural heritage. Construction is underway, a fact that signals that we are actively opening up new opportunities for regional and international investors in the hospitality sector while empowering and enabling our community.”
Guided by 12 strategic principles drawn from the Commission’s Framework Plan and Charter, AlUla’s approach to development balances innovation with heritage, arts and culture while unlocking economic potential to provide new opportunities for the local community. The collaboration further supports RCU’s Cultural Manifesto for AlUla, which details the principle cultural landscape developments planned for the area over the next 10 years. By 2035, RCU expects to host two million visitors annually.
AlUla’s human history began more than 200,000 years ago, yet only recently has modern tourism begun to discover the depth and diversity of its experiences and attractions. Archaeologists from Saudi Arabia and around the world are rediscovering this cultural landscape as RCU supports the economic diversification, community empowerment and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 programme.
Royal Commission for AlUla has also unveiled expansion of its agreement with Accor. The agreement will see Accor operate an expanded Ashar Resort under the Banyan Tree brand. There will be 47 new units added, which will bring the resort’s total number up to 82 high-end villas, along with a luxury spa and several gourmet restaurants. This will be guided by a sensitive design that allows each villa to blend discreetly into the striking natural scenery of the Ashar valley, located 15km from the Kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Hegra.
The partnership with the leading global hospitality group has been signed ahead of AlUla’s official opening to the world as a year-round destination in October 2020.
Ashar valley is the location of the Maraya Hall, a multi-purpose exhibition, conference and entertainment venue and the largest mirrored structure in the world, which will also drive local economic diversification by hosting cultural events, business gatherings and conferences. These have included the Hegra Conference for Nobel Laureates and global figures such as Andrea Bocelli, Majida Al Roumi and Lionel Richie.
Phillip Jones, Chief Destination Officer, RCU said, “With the rebound of the travel sector undoubtedly starting close to home, KSA residents within a drive or a short flight of AlUla will get a head start on experiencing the raw, natural beauty and monumentality of landscapes in their backyard.”
Overnight visitors can choose from five accommodation providers each with its own take on desert luxury. AlUla’s accommodation stock is set to progressively increase to more than 9,400 rooms by 2035.
The four key heritage sites that visitors will now be able to access are, Hegra, an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008; Dadan, probably one of the most developed 1st millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula; Jabal Ikmah, often referred to as the ‘Lihyanite library’, offering insights to ancient beliefs, rituals and practices of every-day life; and Old Town, the ancient walled city of AlUla which has been at the crossroad of civilisations from the twelfth century CE.
AlUla’s immersive experiences will however extend beyond the heritage sites.
Walks, treks and trails will be available both guided by the local Rawi (Arabic storyteller) or self-guided for visitors who want to delve deeper into the stories and customs of the region.
“We are developing immersive, light-touch experiences that harness the power and silence of the landscapes, experiences like guided stargazing in a desert night sky that has inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature for millennia.”
Adventure tourists will also be catered for, whether it’s tearing around the sandscapes in a desert buggy, or taking to the skies in a vintage light air-craft to see volcanic craters and key hole tombs in the lava fields of Harrat Khaybar.
For families, Hijrat Noura, or Princess Noura Farm, located close to Hegra offers a chance to get up close and personal with the local flora and fauna.
Winter Park, an experience developed for the Winter at Tantora festival will also make a come-back as a more permanent attraction offering a casual open-air atmosphere for food trucks and art installations.
After a day of sightseeing, visitors can stroll through the cool and sheltered oasis - a green canopy of palm grove where the air is perfumed with the scent of dates, orange and mint grown nearby.
Dining options include local restaurants, many featuring produce sourced from nearby farms.
For the business tourism market, Maraya, a wonder of the architectural world, is a multi-use 500 seat events venue that is covered in 10,000 square metres of mirrors, reflecting the surrounding landscape. Maraya is scheduled to re-open in December 2020.
“A visit to AlUla is a transformative experience to all who have visited. Its vast open spaces, its secrets of civilisations gone by and the pure wonder of its landmarks – both old and new,” said Jones.
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