Saudi tourism megaproject aims to turn the Red Sea green

Time: October 20, 2019  

The Red Sea is home to abundant species of coral and marine life, including a large number of species found nowhere else on earth. (Courtesy: Red Sea Project website)
  • Development will protect endangered hawksbill turtle, while coral research could help save the Great Barrier Reef

RIYADH: Key ecological targets are driving Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea tourism megaproject, its leader has told Arab News.

The development will not only protect the habitat of the endangered hawksbill turtle, but could also save coral reefs that are dying elsewhere in the world, said Red Sea Development Company Chief Executive John Pagano.

The project is taking shape in a 28,000 square kilometer region of lagoons, archipelagos, canyons and volcanic geology between the small towns of Al-Wajh and Umluj on the Kingdom’s west coast.

One island, Al-Waqqadi, looked like the perfect tourism destination, but was discovered to be a breeding ground for the hawksbill. “In the end, we said we’re not going to develop it. It shows you can balance development and conservation,” Pagano said.

Scientists are also working to explain why the area’s coral reef system — fourth-largest in the world —  is thriving when others around the world are endangered.

“To the extent we solve that mystery, the ambition would be to export that to the rest of the world,” Pagano said. “Can we help save the Great Barrier Reef or the Caribbean coral that has been severely damaged?”

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: National Museum, a cultural landmark of Saudi Arabia

Time: October 19, 2019  

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The museum aims to reinforce its educational message via the collection, registration, restoration and preservation of antiquities

It is a cultural landmark highlighting Saudi Arabia’s heritage and reflecting the history of its people through its expansive displays. It also plays a major role in promoting tourism in the Kingdom.
The building is divided into eight halls showcasing the natural, human, cultural, political and religious development of the Arabian Peninsula and the Saudi state through 3,700 antiquities, 45 models, 900 figurative works, and 45 films.
Located on the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center, in Al-Murabba district of Riyadh, the museum provides a modern educational environment for the local community and visitors including children, families, researchers, and specialists.
The museum aims to reinforce its educational message via the collection, registration, restoration and preservation of antiquities. It also organizes educational exhibitions of relics and traditions of the Arabian Peninsula during different eras.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Ministry raises awareness to protect birds in Saudi Arabia

14/10/19

Flamingoes are pictured feeding off a beach north of Kuwait City on October 8, 2019. (AFP)

There are about 19 species of rare birds that are not found anywhere else in the world except in the Arabian Peninsula
RIYADH: The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture participated in the celebration of World Migratory Bird Day on Oct. 12. This year’s event, entitled “Protecting Birds: Be the Solution for Plastic Pollution,” coincides with the migration cycle of these birds. The event, which has been celebrated since 2006, includes awareness campaigns on bird protection, an introduction to migratory birds and their habitats and to the Kingdom’s regulations to preserve their seasonal routes.
The ministry said that this year’s event highlights the impact of plastic pollution and the environmental threats faced by birds, as well as the strengthening of international cooperation to protect them. Many international organizations and institutions are establishing programs and activities on this day, including training courses, awareness campaigns and visits to migratory birds’ sites.
It noted that 500 bird species are registered in the Kingdom: 277 species of migratory birds and 223 of nesting birds. There are about 19 species of rare birds that are not found anywhere else in the world except in the Arabian Peninsula, for example the Asir or Arabian magpie, which is one of the rarest birds in the world, with only 100 breeding pairs in Asir. The ministry is working on a national program to protect it from extinction.
The ministry said that the most prominent problems that birds face are the destruction of their breeding and feeding areas, poaching, and land and sea pollution with plastic, metal and other wastes. Plastic waste of is one of the most important risks that wild and sea birds are facing. It is one of the materials consumed by birds because of its similarity to grains of sand or fish eggs.
The Kingdom is one of the most important crossing points for migratory birds, from Asia and Europe to Africa. Millions of birds from 277 species cross Saudi Arabia, and of these, 31 species are on the red list of endangered birds. The Kingdom also plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of ecosystems located in their migration’s paths and their food stops during their migration roundtrips. This is an important environmental indicator ascertaining the good functioning of ecosystems around the world.
Birds are used as a fast, accurate and low-cost measure of environmental health. They also offer practical solutions to some problems, such as insect and rodent control, the disposal of dead animals, as well as providing great benefits in transporting seeds and pollen. Beautifully colored and chanting birds add happiness to our lives, and our Arab heritage is rich in describing their beauty.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Al-Khuraybah, the Lion Tombs in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

12/10/19

Photo/Saudi Tourism

It is one of the most important archaeological sites in AlUla consisting of several stone buildings, a circular stone basin known locally as Mahlab Al-Naqa, and numerous carved tombs, the most famous of which are the Lion Tombs.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Lonely Planet guide reveals Saudi Arabia’s tourism treasures

07/10/19

  • For its latest regional edition, the popular travel guide sent a researcher to explore the Kingdom for the first time

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been designated “the final frontier of tourism” by Lonely Planet, one of the world’s largest travel guidebook publishers. The sixth edition of the company’s Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula travel guide was published this month, with an extensively updated section on Saudi Arabia, which announced its newly simplified e-visa late September.

Tharik Hussain, who wrote the section on Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that it is the most-comprehensive guide yet to the attractions of the Kingdom.

Tharik Hussain spent around two months in Saudi Arabia researching its numerous tourism and heritage sites for the book. (Supplied)

“It’s a good time to make sure that the guidebook was brought up to speed and reflected what is really on the ground. If you look at the previous editions, coverage was minimal because Saudi Arabia was ‘the impossible country’ to get in to,” he said, adding that while Muslims could previously acquire a visa for pilgrimage, it was not easy to travel around the rest of the country.

Hussain, a Bangladesh-born British Muslim who previously lived in Jeddah, spent around two months in Saudi Arabia researching its numerous tourism and heritage sites for the book. He acknowledged that, despite its hefty expansion, the updated guide still only covers a small amount of what is available in such a vast country, but said it covers “all the compass points and major towns” and “serves as a foundation for the Kingdom’s global tourism, which can be built upon.”

Farasan Islands is a huge oasis town of Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province. (Getty)                This is the first time in recent history that Lonely Planet has sent one of its researchers to travel across the Kingdom, and the writer claims it is the first time any foreigner has explored the entire country this century.
“I was turning up in places where I felt I was the only outsider who had ever been (to) that area, in the far reaches of the corners of Saudi, like Haql in the northwest from where you can see the Jordanian and Egyptian border, to the huge oasis town of Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province, I went to the Farasan Islands in the deeper south, I was in Dammam and Hail, I went to the edge of the Empty Quarter and the Red Sea. It was pretty epic,” Hussain said.

“I think one of the most amazing strands that rarely gets spoken about — and Saudi Arabia is really onto something if it knows how to tap into it — is Red Sea diving,” Hussain added.

There are dive shops across the country, especially in Jeddah, Tabuk, Umluj and Yanbu, where you will meet local divers and instructors (including female instructors), he explained, who mention “the pristine and almost virgin territory, because there’s never been any mass tourism. Some of these places have amazing flora and fauna and rare creatures, like the whale shark and the hammerhead shark.”

The Haramain High Speed Railway that transports pilgrims to the Holy Cities was opened last year and several new rail and metro systems are also under construction, along with new roads to accommodate the expected boom in tourism, as Saudi Arabia aims to challenge the UAE as the Gulf’s main tourist destination.

Saudi Arabia, Madain Saleh, Hijaz Railway Station, Old Train Cars. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Hussain said: “Clearly they’re working hard and you see lots of infrastructure in a lot of tourism sites, especially the really amazing UNESCO World Heritage ones that date back thousands of years.”

In February, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched tourism projects in AlUla, an area in northwest Saudi Arabia so rich in cultural and natural history that it has been dubbed “an open-air museum.”

Those projects include the Sharaan Nature Reserve and a resort designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The guide also sheds light on the ancient city of Madain Saleh, the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which lies within AlUla. The city was built more than 2,000 years ago by the Nabataeans —Arab people native to northern Arabia and the Southern Levant.

FARASAN ISLAND, SAUDI ARABIA – JANUARY 14: Dhow in a quiet bay, Jizan Region, Farasan island, Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2010 in Farasan Island, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

The new edition of Lonely Planet goes into more detail on the sites that it has covered in the past, but also touches on remote and never-before-covered areas, including the Farasan Islands, which were historically home to wealthy pearl divers and merchants.

“Most of the houses are in semi-ruins but are being slowly refurbished,” Hussain said. “The architecture is completely different to anything else (in) the rest of Saudi Arabia and (it) really blew me away. You could see the style had been influenced by the Islamic art and architecture of places like India, which the pearl merchants would have been trading with.”

The southern Asir region is included in Lonely Planet for the first time. “Asir is the only place in the whole of Saudi Arabia where they have forests and these amazing mountain villages that are completely different from the rest of Saudi Arabia,” Hussain said.

Asir National Park is home to the Kingdom’s highest peak, Mount Sawda, part of the Sarawat Mountains. It stands more than 3,000 meters above sea level, with cable cars, viewing areas covered in a juniper-type forest, and several picnic spaces.

“All around that region and tucked away in the valleys are these beautiful villages of stone houses that look like they’ve been carved into the face of the mountain. They are absolutely stunning,” Hussain said, adding that many of them were uninhabited and used as tourist attractions, like the ‘Hanging Village’ of Al-Habala, which used to be accessed solely via ropes.
The guide also highlights Jeddah’s old town of Al-Balad — another UNESCO World Heritage site — as a must-see destination.
The district’s buildings are made from Red Sea coral and feature beautiful hanging “mashrabiyas” — huge wooden lattice balconies that allow cool air to flow in but keep the sun and prying eyes out.

There are also the ruins of the Hijaz railway that was built by the Ottomans to transport pilgrims betweeen Damascus and Madinah. Remnants of the project, including overturned locomotives, can be found scattered across the country and some of the bigger old stations have been reappropriated. Those in Tabuk and Madinah have been turned into museums.

For Hussain, the chance to describe these sites at the time of such a highly anticipated change in the Kingdom’s tourism sector was a unique opportunity.

“Saudi Arabia is so diverse in what it has to offer and, generally, it’s an absolutely amazing place to travel around,” he said. “I hope this guide shows just how much potential it has as a tourist destination.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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24,000 visitors to Saudi Arabia within 10 days of new tourist visa system

07/10/19

24,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia within the first 10 days of the implementation of instant tourist visas at airports in the Kingdom, according to a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement. (SPA)
  • The ministry revealed the number of visitors from the top 10 countries using the new system
  • New visa system also allows ease of access for Muslims to perform Umrah outside of the Hajj season

RIYADH: 24,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia within the first 10 days of the implementation of instant tourist visas at airports in the Kingdom, according to a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement on Monday.

The ministry revealed the number of visitors from the top 10 countries using the new system — with China topping the list, with the UK and the US in second and third respectively.

European nations France and Germany were also in the list, with Canada, Malaysia and Russia just behind the top three. Australia and Kazakhstan were in ninth and tenth place.

The new visa system also allows ease of access for Muslims to perform Umrah outside of the Hajj season without the need for a sponsor, as is the case with work permit visas.

Outside of religious journeys, the new visa does not exclude any visitor on religious grounds and the successful applicants can make multiple visits to the Kingdom within a 12 month period, provided each visit does not exceed 90 days.

The recently announced visa system was introduced in a bid to create one million jobs within the Kingdom, as well as targeting 100 million tourists by 2030 as part of the Vision 2030 program.

This article was first published in Arab News

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All you need to know about the new Saudi public decency code

29/09/19

Ministry of Interior announcement comes as the Kingdom opens up to foreign tourists
Police officers to be sole authority responsible for monitoring offenses and imposing fines
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has given the go-ahead to implement new regulations related to public decency as the country opens up to foreign tourists.
Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif on Friday approved the rules, which identify 19 offenses as punishable.
The ministerial decision accompanies the launch of a visa regime that allows holidaymakers from 49 countries to visit Saudi Arabia. Until now, most visitors to the Kingdom have been either pilgrims or businesspeople.
Men and women are required to dress modestly, refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures.
Women are required to cover shoulders and knees in public, but they are free to choose a modest choice of clothing.

The Kingdom is encouraging tourists and visitors to familiarize themselves with public decency laws in order to avoid fines.
Violations listed on the new visa website include littering, spitting, queue jumping, taking photographs and videos of people without permission, and playing music at prayer times.
Fines range from SR50 ($13) to SR6,000.

“The regulations are meant to ensure that visitors and tourists in the Kingdom are aware of the law relating to public behavior so that they comply with it,” said a government media statement, adding that Saudi police had the sole responsibility for monitoring offenses and imposing fines.
The sale, purchase and consumption of alcohol are illegal in Saudi Arabia, as is bringing alcohol or drugs into the country.
The new code forbids hate, racism, discrimination and indecent behavior. Anyone found engaging in indecent behavior, which includes acts of a sexual nature, will receive a SR3,000 fine that can be doubled if the violation is committed a second time.

The charter forbids playing loud music in a residential area without a prior license. The violator will receive a SR500 penalty that could be doubled if repeated.
The same punishment will be imposed on anyone caught littering streets and public places, jumping over or going around barriers to access a public place, or wearing clothing with language, images or symbols that promote discrimination, racism, porn or drug use.

A person who plays loud music at prayer times will receive a SR1,000 fine. Repeating the violation exposes the offender to a SR2,000 penalty.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally given high priority to attention and respect for the elderly and those with special needs.
As such, the new code says anyone who occupies their seats and facilities will receive a SR200 fine for the first time. The fine can be doubled if the violation is repeated.
The new code imposes a SR100 fine on people who fail to remove the excrement of their pets. The fine can be doubled if the violation is repeated.
The same punishment can apply to other violations such as writing or drawing on public transportation vehicles or public walls; lighting fires in public places; harming or frightening anyone in a public place, whether verbally or physically; and directing harmful lights, such as laser beams, at someone.

The new code includes a SR1,000 fine for those who take photos or videos of people without their permission.
The fine, which may be increased to SR2,000, applies to taking photos or videos of traffic accidents, crimes and other similar incidents.
Unless allowed, those who do not respect their turn in a line of people waiting to be served will be fined SR50. That amount can be doubled if the law is broken a second time.
The new code says no penalties can be imposed on any behavior not mentioned in the charter. It adds that violators will have to bear the costs of rectifying their violation.
Anyone harmed by a violation can claim their private rights and file a lawsuit against the offender.
In case of multiple offenders in a single violation, the prescribed fine shall be imposed separately on each violator.
Any person on whom a penalty is imposed has the right to file a complaint before the Public Decency Circuit at the Specialized Court (Board of Grievances).

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘Visitors will discover that Saudi Arabia is a land of great diversity,’ says tourism chief

28/09/19

Participants attend the launch of the new tourism visa in Ad Diriyah, a Unesco-listed heritage site, outside Riyadh on September 27, 2019. (AFP)

Ahmed Al Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announces the launch of a new tourist visa regime at a dinner at historic Diriyah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2019. (REUTERS).

Tourism chief reveals plans to boost visitor numbers at gala Ad-Diriyah gathering
AD-DIRIYAH: Saudi Arabia on Friday launched elaborate plans to attract tourists from around the world as it “seeks to attract 100 million global and domestic visits by 2030.” Addressing a large gathering in the historic Ad-Diriyah region, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said: “We look forward to giving every guest a warm welcome and showing them the hospitality and generosity for which Arabia is famous.”
Visitors to Saudi Arabia will be surprised and delighted to discover the Kingdom’s many treasures — “the warmth of our people, our rich heritage, vibrant culture and breathtaking natural beauty,” he said. “Visitors will discover that Saudi Arabia is a land of great diversity and many contrasts,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia’s unique heritage attractions include the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Ad-Diriyah, the AlUla archaeological site and the Jeddah Historical District. The Kingdom’s variety of natural attractions range from the mountains of Abha to the beaches of the Red Sea and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
“New attractions being developed include the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiya Entertainment City near Riyadh and luxury destinations by the Red Sea,” Al-Khateeb said.

Visitors to Saudi Arabia will be surprised and delighted to discover the Kingdom’s many treasures — the warmth of our people, our rich heritage, vibrant culture and breathtaking natural beauty.

Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage

He said that about 622,000 people were employed in tourism-related jobs in Saudi Arabia. “Over 260,000 new jobs will be created by tourism in the Kingdom over the next three years,” Al-Khateeb said. Tourism is expected to create 1 million new jobs in Saudi Arabia by 2030, pushing employment in the sector up to 1.6 million.

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Al-Khateeb also announced the launch of a new tourist visa for travelers from around the world.
From Sept. 27, 2019, visitors from 49 countries will be eligible to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival, making it quick and easy to visit the Kingdom. Tourists from those countries will also be able to get tourist visas by applying through the Saudi consulates in their home countries. These one-year visas will permit tourists to stay for up to three months per visit and will allow multiple entries. Al-Khateeb said that hospitality is central to Arabian culture. “The generous and warm treatment of guests has a long history in the Arabian Peninsula and remains a foundation of Arab culture,” he said. The opening of the Kingdom to tourists was an opportunity for the Saudi people to put their hospitality on display and for people around the world to experience this generosity first hand. Guests at the gathering mingled in an open area with huge screens featuring testimonies from visitors who had previously experienced Saudi Arabia’s tourist attractions. The screens were programmed to detect people nearby, triggering the video testimonies.

HIGHLIGHTS
• The evening culminated in a performance that used the dining room’s four massive screens to showcase the extent of Saudi Arabia’s investment in the tourism sector.

• Actors strolled through the dining room in costumes as the screens displayed different areas of the country.

• One woman rode into the dining room on a live horse.

• Children with balloons made their way among the tables as the screens displayed the AlUla Hot Air Balloon Festival while one actor was carried through a basket across the room.

• There was also an actor, dressed as a diver, who swam through the air alongside a pair of dolphins as the screen showed the Red Sea behind him.

The lobby also featured areas where guests could experience the Kingdom’s various climates, including artificial snow and cold air on one side, representing Jabal Soudah, while hot, dry air simulated desert conditions.
The evening culminated in a performance that used the dining room’s four massive screens to showcase the extent of Saudi Arabia’s investment in the tourism sector.
Actors strolled through the dining room in costumes as the screens displayed different areas of the country. One woman rode into the dining room on a live horse. Children with balloons made their way among the tables as the screens displayed the AlUla Hot Air Balloon Festival while one actor was carried through a basket across the room. There was also an actor, dressed as a diver, who swam through the air alongside a pair of dolphins as the screen showed the Red Sea behind him. Discussing the details of the new visa, Al-Khateeb said Saudi Arabia had restructured its short-stay visa regime. “The new regime provides for a number of short-stay visas, including a visit visa for tourists,” he said.
Visitors from 49 countries and regions will be able to apply for the visit visa online, while other visitors will apply for visas at the Saudi embassies/consulates in their home countries.
Applications can be made online through the tourism e-portal at https://visa.sauditourism.sa/, at electronic kiosks on arrival in Saudi Arabia or at immigration counters.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s AlUla Heritage Town, a fascinating insight into Nabataean life

28/09/19

The site includes a tourist information center and a souq
A collection of ancient buildings built from stone and clay tells the story of a civilization’s past and its way of life.
The area has been beautifully preserved and offers tourists a fascinating insight into Nabataean life.
The site includes a tourist information center and a souq.
This photograph was taken by Abdulaziz Al-Bugshi as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Sawda Park in Abha, most popular destinations in Saudi Arabia

21/09/19

  • The park is around 2,800 meters above sea level at Al-Sawda Mountain

Al-Sawda Park, 25 km west of Abha, is one of the most popular destinations in the south of the Kingdom, celebrated for its green and mountainous landscape, wildlife and beauty. The park is around 2,800 meters above sea level at Al-Sawda Mountain which is one of the highest peaks in Saudi Arabia. This photograph was taken by Sami Al-Tukhis as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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