Saudi Arabia, the new fashionable tourist destination

The country, a candidate for the 2030 Universal Exhibition, intends to bet on the development of tourism to recover its image and attract up to 100 million visitors a year. To do this, it has numerous natural, historical and archaeological assets, such as the fabulous and fascinating AlUla Oasis in northwestern Arabia.

Soon a World Expo in Riyadh?

After Dubai this year, will Riyadh be the second Middle Eastern capital to host the World Expo? If nothing has been done yet, Saudi Arabia formalized its candidacy during a grand ceremony organized on March 28, during which the Kingdom unveiled the topic it wanted to raise to try to welcome ‘Expo 2030: ” The Age of Change: Guiding the Planet into a Prospective Future “. Extensive program of which the Saudi pavilion of the last universal exhibition, unanimously acclaimed for its aesthetics and its futurism, was a preview.

Great ambitions for a country that will now have to convince itself that it is not reducible to a vast desert expanse full of oil, with backward morals and whose image is tarnished by a regime often presented as authoritarian. To do this, the great campaign of seduction that is coming will be able to rely especially on the tourist treasures of Saudi Arabia, as little known as they are extremely valuable.

Natural and archaeological gems

Arabia, a tourist destination? At first glance, the statement is surprising. However, the country already has a strong experience in the field because with Mecca and Medina the Kingdom has represented, for centuries, a high place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world. ” Saudi Arabia is already the 19th most visited country in the world, thanks to Hajj and Umrah visitors emphasizes Fahd Al Rasheed, director general of the Royal Commission of the city of Riyadh.

Al_Ula_old_town,_Saudi_Arabia_2011 – Credits: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

But it is clear that the country still does not appear at the top of the gondola of traditional travel agencies. But that could change, and quickly. It is good to know that the country has just reinstated, first of all, its tourist visa issuance program for travelers from around fifty countries, including France, and this without the obligation to present a vaccination certificate upon entry. A lifting of health restrictions that “ marks the final step in Saudi Arabia’s return to a pre-pandemic level of openness and makes it one of the world’s most accessible destinations for leisure, business and religious travel “, he welcomed his Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, who declared himself ” looking forward to welcoming visitors from all over the world who are eager to explore the real part of Arabia ».

Far from clichés, the Kingdom hides true natural and archaeological nuggets. Thus, the Wadi Rum desert, straddling Arabia and Jordan, a valley whose landscapes of dunes, cliffs, caves and jagged canyons by the elements are impressive. Natural arches carved into the ocher rock, archaeological remains and traces of writings and illustrations engraved on the stone sthey have so many attractions that are worth seeing -some of which testify to a human presence that goes back 12 millennia- and that the Bedouin Arabs are in charge of showing passing tourists, with that tradition of unparalleled hospitality. . Therefore, the spectacle and the change of scenery are guaranteed in the oldest geological stratum in the world, classified since 2011 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

AlUla, the pearl of the Saudi desert

A stay in Saudi Arabia cannot do without a prolonged stop in AlUla, “the” pearl of the desert that could well be on its way to establishing itself as one of the most popular destinations for adventurers of the 21st century. Oasis located in the north-west of the country, this stage of the ancient route of the lights, the destination of the tourist ambitions of Royaume: on the voyage of the space – on a part of 30,000 km2 – and in the temps, AlUla cumule the advantages. Starting with its very particular geography, marked here by imposing rock formations that seem to come out of the sand, there by immense basaltic plateaus that give the Saudi desert a false lunar surface air. Do not miss : « elephant rock », a monolith over 50 meters high which, as its name suggests, adopts the features of a pachyderm reigning over the desert sand.

AlUla is also and above all the site, quite exceptional from the historical and archaeological point of view, of Hegra. True twin sister of Petra, the city of Hegra, like the neighboring Jordanian site, was built in 1st century BC par the Nabataeans, who dug into the rock more than a hundred graves with facades each more spectacular than the other. first saudi site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra was rediscovered in the early 2000s by French archaeologist Laïla Nehmé. Still little referenced in the world atlas of the wonders of Antiquity, Hégra represents above all, for the fledgling Indiana Jones, the opportunity to visit as true “pioneers” an extraordinary site, full of legends and preserved, for the time being, of the impact. of excessive tourist influx. Absolutely essential!

AlUla_oasis_trail #alulaexperience
AlUla_oasis_trail Credits: experiencealula.com

AlUla, it is finally these palm groves that, in the hollow of the valleys, provide freshness and life in the middle of the desert expanses. Like the one that shades the old town of AlUla, a ghost town that its inhabitants abandoned in the 80s and therefore retains a strange charm of yesteryear. It is also in these green oases that the citrus crops typical of the region – citrons, sweet lemons, limequats, oranges, etc. – and what we find in the perfume composition as unique as enigmatic. Finally, AlUla symbolizes the cultural ambitions of Saudi Arabia, with none other than nine museums in the making, a concert hall in the middle of the desert, artistic residences and great designers, such as Dolce & Gabbana, who move their fashion shows to this stage worthy of The Thousand and One Nights…

Goal: 100 million visitors per year

So many assets that recently the Greek deputy minister for economic diplomacy, Kostas Fragogiannis, declared that Saudi Arabia could soon establish itself as a world-class tourist destination.

The Kingdom authorities also estimate that the tourism sector could, in 2030, weigh up to 15% of an estimated GDP of 1,860 million dollars. “By 2030, the goal is to have 500,000 hotel keys (…) and 100 million visits a year “said Saudi Arabian Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih. Enough to position the Kingdom, which must diversify an economy based on oil and recover its image internationally, as the fashionable destination of the next decade.

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