In almost no time, the city of Al-Ula in northwest Saudi Arabia went from being relatively unknown to a very early symbol of success for the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan.
Previously underdeveloped and mostly ignored, it has now become home to the Winter at Tantora music festival, which was sold out every night between December and February as visitors flocked to see legends such as Andrea Bocelli, Yanni, Mohammed Abdo and Majida El-Roumi perform.
Projects such as the Sharaan Resort and Sharaan Nature Reserve, which are due to open in 2023, promise to turn the city into the tourist hotspot it was always meant to be.
After all, not many places in the world can say they are sitting on 3,000 years of history, which is the case with Al-Ula, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Madain Saleh.
Recently, the Hot Air Balloon Festival presented a blueprint for adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia. Next, the Dakar Rally will take place there in 2020.
Al-Ula’s success — mostly due to the work done by a dedicated, recently formed royal commission — portrays what Vision 2030 is all about: Opening up new industries, lessening the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, capitalizing on its long-ignored historic and cultural treasures, and creating jobs for the country’s booming population.
A senior official with access to employment figures told Arab News that in less than three years, Al-Ula has achieved a negative unemployment rate of 2 percent.
This means that Al-Ula now needs to import workers from neighboring regions to keep pace with the demand for jobs.
“I’m so happy with the opening of tourism in Al-Ula. It has given us an opportunity to work and let go of some of the super-conservative beliefs that (our) people had,” said Manal Al-Budair, an Al-Ula local who works in the media.
“In the past, the only acceptable job for females was a teacher. But with the opening up of Al-Ula, much change has taken place,” she added.
“I hope we host more events. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to welcome people from all over the world to our historical city,” she said.
“Tantora highlighted our youth’s ambitions and our willingness to work hard, prosper and succeed.”