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Thursday, 21 February, 2019, 15 : 30 PM [IST]

Royal Commission of Al-Ula exploring partnerships to make Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site a world-class destination

To make ‘Winter at Tantora Festival’ an annual calendar event to attract visitors
The Royal Commission of Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, an agency set up on the basis of a royal decree last year, to promote the Kingdom’s pre-historic and natural heritage  city of  Al-Ula as a world-class tourist destination, is in India as part of Royal delegation, exploring partnerships with agencies both in the government and private sector with expertise to help and support in  heritage conservation, infrastructure building, architecture, master planning, create events, help in packaging, marketing, etc.

Believed to be built between the first century BC and the first century AD, Al-Ula city was home to the Nabataean civilisation in the kingdom's southernmost settlement and is second only to Petra in size and splendour. The Al-Ula valley, located 300km north of Medina, is a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage and houses among other attractions the first UNESCO World Heritage site of Mada’in Saleh. A 52-hectare ancient city, Mada’in Saleh was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and comprises more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement.

“Our vision is to make Al-Ula a world-class heritage destination for art, culture, heritage and nature. We want to achieve that by forging partnerships. We are here to explore such partnerships. We had back to back meetings with ministries of culture, tourism, archaeologists, museums services, tour operators, travel agencies, airline companies, etc.  The idea is to partner with the best of people and agencies in various aspects of culture and heritage conservation, tourism, etc. Tourism is something new to us and that is why we are actively looking at partnerships,” said Iman Almutairi, in-charge of the Destination Marketing Office of Royal Commission of Al-Ula.

She said that the purpose of setting up a stand-alone Royal Commission by the King was to “give a powerful push” so that it can become a “role model” for other destinations in Saudi Arabia for destination development on a global scale. Al-Ula is a province of the size of a country of the size of Belgium, but has a population of only 60,000 people, she explained.

As a first step towards introducing and promoting Al-Ula, the Royal Commission has started an annual festival – Winter at Tantora – from last year which has been promoted by creating all-inclusive packages. The festival, started on December 20 is a two-month-long feature, giving opportunities for tourists to visit Al-Ula and experience its nature, culture, heritage, etc. They had invited popular artists, musicians of the likes of Yanni, Renaud Capucon, Lang Lang, Omar Khairat, etc. to perform during the festival to make it more rewarding for visitors.

“Being the first year, we wanted to test our capabilities in terms of airport, immigration, accommodation, etc. We got a lot of insights.  We now know our constraints well,” she said. The Royal Commission has already started preparing for the next year’s festival and it will be “much much improved event.”

She said that the Commission wanted travellers to buy packages online from a customised site before coming into Al-Ula so that the visitations are controlled and be able to offer experiences in a seamless fashion. According to her, they are looking to invite hi-end visitors those wanting out-of-the-world experiences, and have a liking for culture, heritage, art, etc.  “We are not looking at nationality but personality,” she added. The target markets, she said are besides domestic guests, people from GCC, India, China, Japan, Russia, etc.

The Royal Commission has set a modest target of receiving 2.5 lakh visitors by 2021 and 2 million by 2035.
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