AlUla in Saudi Arabia is banking on its centuries of heritage to attract international visitors as the country continues its ambitious tourism development. The north-western city is believed to have had a settlement since 5000 BC and the Royal Commission for AlUla is working to protect its unique cultural and natural heritage as one of the area’s strongest tourism assets.
Alhasan Aldabbagh, president of Asia-Pacific markets at Saudi Tourism Authority, says AlUla’s offering as “a living museum of preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops and historic dwellings that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored history, including the World Heritage Site of Hegra”, will appeal particularly to travellers from the Asia-Pacific region.
Efforts are therefore being stepped up to make the destination as environmentally, economically and socially sustainable as possible.
In the Old Town, approximately 100 of the 900 traditional buildings made from mud brick have been restored using traditional methods, and an old school has been renovated into a centre for teaching traditional pottery and handicrafts – the women who are trained sell their goods in local souvenir shops. Forms of intangible cultural heritage such as dance, music and storytelling are also being preserved through performances for visitors.
More than 80 residents are trained and employed as storyteller guides for tourists, and a further 2,000 are employed as guardians of the local heritage and natural assets. Officials are also encouraging the development of new businesses by creating a souq (street market) linking the old and new quarters and forming a “Made in AlUla” retail line of which sale proceeds return to the community.
“Our goal is for AlUla to be not just sustainable, but also regenerative,” said Ahmed Daoud, innovation director at the Royal Commission for AlUla. Its cultural oasis restoration project aims to reduce water consumption, improve crop productivity and enhance the aesthetic view of the oasis.
AlUla received the 2023 Middle East’s Leading Cultural Tourism Project Award at the Middle East World Travel Awards in October and was named a best tourist village in 2022 by the UNWTO.