Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa Oasis registered by Guinness as world’s largest

09/10/20

Al-Ahsa oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers. (SPA)

  • The oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees feeding on a huge aquifer through 280 artesian springs

AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa Oasis, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, entered the Guinness World Records as the largest self-contained oasis in the world.

According to “Guinness” website, the oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees feeding on a huge aquifer through 280 artesian springs and extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers (32.9 square miles).

The Heritage Commission undertook the task of introducing the World Encyclopedia to Al-Ahsa Oasis, one of the sites of Saudi Arabia registered in the World Heritage List of “UNESCO,” along with the other registered sites; Al-Hijr in Al-Ula, Al-Turaif neighborhood in historic Ad Diriyah, historic Jeddah, and the sites of rock art in Jubbah and Shuaimis in Hail.

Al-Ahsa oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers. (SPA)

Al-Ahsa not only enjoys a rich environmental heritage but also runs back deep in history and civilization, as it witnessed many civilizations and was a strategic communication bridge with the world.

It includes many national heritage sites and the oldest human settlements dating back thousands of years. Its date-palm oasis is the largest palm oasis surrounded by sand in the world.

The “Guinness World Records” had registered the Maraya concert hall in Al-Ula this year as the largest building covered with mirrors in the world, in addition to several record-breaking Saudi achievements.

Saudi Arabia has been placed second in the Arab world in the number of Guinness World Records.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Murabba Palace in Riyadh built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937

03/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there

Murabba Palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh.
The complex was constructed on a plot of land called Murabba Al-Sufyan, which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
The palace was built in traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design, and it is surrounded by gardens in the south, the Batha Valley in the east, Wadi Abu Rafie in the west, and rolling hills to the north. It is located just 2 kilometers away from the old Riyadh city, and mud bricks, local stones, tamarisk trunks, and palm-leaf stalks were used in the construction of such palaces.
King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there.
The palace witnessed many historic events and royal decisions including setting up the Ministry of Defense, the launch of Saudi Radio and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, issuing Saudi currency, formal schools, and the establishment of the railroad between Riyadh and Dammam.
Other national milestones played host to at the palace included the emergence of oil in commercial quantities, and the issuance of transport, housing, employment, retirement, commercial, and passport systems.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi photographer reveals unfamiliar tourist sites in the south of the Kingdom

Time: 29 September 2020

  • Hassan Haroobi calls for investing in photography to develop visual culture
  • Nature is a divine beauty that encourages creativity and photography

MAKKAH: Hassan Haroobi began taking photographs in 2013, having had a “passion for photography” since his childhood.

“I got my first camera in 2013 and the regions which I took photos of reflect the beauty of the southern region of our beloved Kingdom, especially in the Harub province in eastern Jazan, 110 kilometers away from the city,” he told Arab News.

He has taken many distinguished photos since starting out, including one of a giant moon, and the famous photo of the student that lately circulated on social media. “Nature is a divine beauty that encourages creativity and photography,” he sphaid.

Any person who loves photography seeks to capture everlasting photos to show nature to the whole world, be it plants, animals, seas, soil, water, or air, he said.

“This is why nature is like a treasure granted by God for humans to benefit, and nature is our source of living,” said Haroobi.

He added: “It is from nature that people get natural resources to procure all their needs. It is from nature that they take materials they use in their daily life. This is why life is like a big store for whatever the human needs to live, starting from his food, and ending with things that he produces and uses. The human is an important part of nature and is an extension to it.”

The first thing a photographer needs to think of before going out to take pictures is “what is the best moment to take an extraordinary picture?” he said.

“This is something that some people consider trivial, for we can take photos anytime we want. Yes, this does not contradict reality; however everything has its suitable moments so that it would be done in the best way,” he added.

FASTFACTS

• Hassan Haroobi began taking photographs in 2013.

• He has taken many distinguished photos since starting out, including one of a giant moon, and the famous photo of the student that lately circulated on social media.

• Haroobi considers sunrise or sunset the perfect time for photography.

He noted that photography was a widespread art. Professional photographers, or those aiming to become one, should be organized in everything they do, he said, from planning the location, preparing the camera, and ensuring enough and suitable equipment for every photo session.

As for the best time to take photos, Haroobi said the “golden hour” before sunrise or sunset is perfect, especially with for portraits and landscapes with smooth, easily controlled light.

Photography in Saudi Arabia has become available to everyone through modern mobile devices, and anybody can become a professional photographer, he said.

“Photography does not depend on the type of camera; it primarily depends on the vision and perception of the photographer on how he takes the picture, what he will focus on, and how he will shed light on a certain part while discarding other less important parts,” he said.

He pointed out that taking into consideration the basic conditions of photography rather than the camera itself would turn a picture from an ordinary one to a professional one.

“Although using a professional camera would render the photo more brilliant and professional, it would not alone produce the beauty, for it could give worse results than the mobile if the user ignores photography techniques,” said Haroobi. “Because mobiles and simple cameras are designed to make autocorrections, and it is exactly like in painting where skills lie in the painter and not the pen.”

He advised photographers of both genders not to go out and take pictures during rainy days and storms, especially in mountains, for the southern regions of the Kingdom witness difficult and possibly dangerous conditions.

The photographer also called on increasing investment in the art of photography by organizing competitions for the most beautiful pictures.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Future Hospitality Summit eyes tourism recovery

28/09/20

Hot air balloons fly in the skies of AlUla. The hybrid virtual conference aims to explore big ideas and tackle the challenges facing the hospitality industry and will take place live from Riyadh.

Future Hospitality Summit, a hybrid virtual conference to explore big ideas and tackle the challenges facing the hospitality industry, is set to take place live from Riyadh and around the world, on Oct. 26 and 27. It is organized by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism and the G20 Saudi Secretariat, as part of the International Conferences’ Programme, honoring the G20 Saudi presidency year 2020.

The event, which promises to be one of the most impactful gatherings of the world’s hospitality community, will be delivered on Bench Digital’s tried-and-tested digital event platform, providing an immersive live experience, including a virtual exhibition, one-to-one video networking, and integrated chat features for all participants.

A comprehensive three-pillar program has been developed in collaboration with industry creators, innovators and mentors, with particular focus on understanding the new landscape, collaborating and assessing opportunities, and innovating to recreate the industry’s future. Arne Sorenson, president and CEO, Marriott International; Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corporation; Gloria Guevara, CEO and president, WTTC; Jerry Inzerillo, CEO, Diriyah Gate Development Authority; and Anita Mendiratta, special advisory to the secretary general, UNWTO; are lined up as featured speakers, along with over 100 other speakers and thousands of attendees.

“As a country that is at the forefront of the tourism sector’s response and recovery plans through the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia is leading the conversation on the future of tourism and will provide an international platform to bring the industry together at the Future Hospitality Summit. Together, we will map out the rebuilding of the tourism and travel sector and strategically plan a sustainable future for stakeholders at every level,” said Mahmoud Abdulhadi, deputy minister for investment at the Saudi Ministry of Tourism.

Jonathan Worsley, chairman and founder of Bench Digital, added: “During this difficult time, it is vital that hospitality professionals across the globe come together as a community to work toward the recovery of our industry. Future Hospitality Summit will not only provide a powerful platform to network virtually, showcase best practice and demonstrate thought leadership, but it will also prove invaluable in ensuring that the industry emerges stronger as a whole from these unprecedented challenges.”

Empowering tomorrow’s workforce and attracting talent into the hospitality sector — imperative factors in sustaining the industry — will be two of the key focus points of the hybrid summit. Developing a skilled workforce is paramount in order to quickly evolve and keep pace with the demand being created from the hospitality sector. In Saudi Arabia, for example, 253 new hotels are coming online by 2030. Consequently, Future Hospitality Summit is a forum to engage with the hospitality workforce of the future and promote the sector as an attractive career path.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Beauty of Taif Heritage

26/09/20

  • Taif is famous for its magnificent tourist attractions such as museums, parks, flea markets, fruits, roses and aromatic flower farms, as well as cultural attractions.

Many Saudi families still maintain traditional attire and encourage their children to learn more about the clothing of their forebears.
Photographer Afnan Al-Samhan captured this award-winning image of a child in Taif province wearing traditional dress. The photo was one of the winning images in the Colors of Saudi Contest. Taif is famous for its magnificent tourist attractions such as museums, parks, flea markets, fruits, roses and aromatic flower farms, as well as cultural attractions such as Souk Okaz, which has been improved by the National Authority for Tourism and National Heritage through the organization of the Souk Okaz Festival during the past few years.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Museum telling Jeddah’s historic story to open in 2022

21/09/20

The building, designed in typical Jeddah style, bears white walls made of a heady mix of coral stones extracted from the nearby reef along the Red Sea shores, and purified clay from nearby lakes. (Photo/Supplied)

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The Place: Murabba Palace in Riyadh where King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and heads of state

19/09/20

  • The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design
Murabba Palace at King Abdul Aziz Historical Center in Riyadh is one of the city’s prominent historical landmarks.
The palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom King Abdul Aziz in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh. The palace complex was built on a plot called “Murabba Al-Sufyan,” which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to the documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and visiting heads of state and make historical agreements at Murabba Palace.
The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design. The huge walls and internal and external ceilings are built with tamarisk and palm tree fronds. Stones were used in the foundations and columns, and wood was used for doors and windows.
This photograph was taken by Mohammad Abdu as part of the Colors of Saudi collection.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi tour guide’s labor of love showcasing Saudi Arabia’s wonders to world

18/09/20

Saudi Arabia has unlimited tourism potential thanks to its beaches, islands, plains, mountains, and deserts along with its distinctive and unique cultural heritage and civilization, says Al-Took. (Supplied)
  • Khaled Al-Took still learning after 2 decades at center of Saudi Arabia’s tourism development journey

MAKKAH: For Saudi tour guide Khaled Al-Took a career helping to showcase the Kingdom’s natural and cultural treasures to the world has been more than just a job — it has been a labor of love.

After more than two decades in the role, he has not only become a walking encyclopedia on Saudi people, customs, and traditions but has also witnessed a seismic change in the country’s approach to home and foreign tourism.

Opening up the Kingdom to tourists from around the world has been one of the cornerstones of the Vision 2030 reform plan to boost economic growth.

And Al-Took has been a key player in the nation’s journey of transformation.

Speaking to Arab News about his experiences in the sector, he said that the main mission of a tour guide was to execute the agreement signed between a travel operator and their customer.

“A tour guide has many responsibilities because they are effectively the ambassador of their country and region before the visiting tourists. They must represent that region and do their best to convey its true image,” he said.

He added that tour guides played a significant role in shaping the whole visitor experience and must possess an array of skills to meet with tourist expectations.

It was important for them to be familiar with program itineraries and timings and be able to pass on facts, figures, and stories about historic and cultural attractions.

“Another feature that characterizes the tour guide, is their ability to depict the personality of the guest and know when to speak and when to remain silent,” he said.

Al-Took pointed out that one of the aims of a good tour guide should be to help create lasting memories for visitors. It was their responsibility to do detailed background research on destinations and attractions in order to be able to pass on accurate information and informed comment.

“The best way to shed light on the beauty of any tourist attraction is to present it as it is with all its genuine facts, leaving the final decision to the recipient,” added Al-Took.

Saudi Arabia has unlimited tourism potential thanks to its beaches, islands, plains, mountains, and deserts along with its distinctive and unique cultural heritage and civilization, says Al-Took. (Supplied)

His introduction to the job came about by pure coincidence more than 20 years ago.

“I was passionate about internal travel and getting to know the cities and regions of my country. I was impressed by the cultural diversity and different environments we have.

“So, I completely devoted myself to this work, driven by my desire to explore its depths and intensively learn about the ancient civilizations and their relationship to the present, as well as the monuments and effects that stand as a valuable witness to the richness of our civilization and culture.

“Throughout my years in this work I have constantly been learning, and I am still learning and discovering. I am an insatiable learner. During every visit I make a point, whether alone or with tourists, to learn something new by unravelling new facts about something I perhaps had not noticed before or through remarks made by the tourists,” he said.

Al-Took noted that tour groups often spotted fine detail that a guide may have missed.

“God has created us in different tribes and races in order for us to meet each other, thus exchanging our respective knowledge. Through these trips, during which have I got to know many people from different cultures, many questions come to mind that I convey to my guests. They rejoice when we find a cultural or heritage meeting point between us.

“During one visit, I found out through speaking to a guest from New Zealand, that there was a meeting point between indigenous people and Gulf culture in general and our culture in Saudi Arabia in particular, which was greeting by the touching of noses,” he added.

Early in his career, the number of tourist guides in Saudi Arabia could be “counted on the fingers of one hand,” which meant tour operators employed them on a wide variety of trips including cruises, and day tours of Jeddah, Duba, Dubai, and Bahrain.

“I also led trips specialized in tracking the ancient trade routes from the south of the Arabian Peninsula and Dubai to the Kingdom’s border with Jordan in the north, as well as following some routes heading east and south to the Saudi border with Yemen and Oman deep in the Empty Quarter.”

Al-Took has also organized cultural trips in regions throughout the Kingdom, highlighting ancient civilizations, inscriptions, and spectacular rock structures.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with celebrities as well as other people from all nationalities, and all of them agreed they had a positive impression about Saudi Arabia since it is a large country holding a lot of unknowns.

“Many people assert that the stereotype they know about Saudi Arabia quickly fades away on their first visit, and the deeper they go the more they discover that everything they had read in the press, old books, or reports from contemporary travelers was different from what they saw themselves.

Saudi Arabia has unlimited tourism potential thanks to its beaches, islands, plains, mountains, and deserts along with its distinctive and unique cultural heritage and civilization, says Al-Took. (Supplied)

“They often find that the stories they have been told are incorrect and quite opposite to their own experience on the ground. There is a cultural richness here and honest, welcoming people,” he added.

Many Saudis, he said, were not convinced or aware of the potential of tourism in their country but one of the positives to come out of the COVID-19  pandemic was the opportunity for people to get out and about locally and learn more about the Kingdom’s natural and cultural attractions.

“The Ministry of Tourism has played an instrumental role in highlighting these capabilities through a strong marketing campaign aimed at introducing Saudis and expats to these distinctive treasures,” he added.

“Some people who visited the Asir region during this period were shocked and reported that what they saw competed with the likes of Europe, where they used to spend their annual vacations.”

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia had unlimited tourism potential thanks to its beaches, islands, plains, mountains, and deserts along with its distinctive and unique cultural heritage and civilization.This fabric of different colors and tastes, he said, was a very marketable commodity.

“The culture, civilization, nature and, above all, a generous population unique in its humanity, heritage, and patriotism, all together form distinct and attractive elements put into perspective by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am confident that this emergence will be the beginning of a new destination, and strongly competitive, especially with the government’s orientation to make the tourism industry a source of national income in accordance with Vision 2030, which is not long away from being achieved.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Heritage Authority to unveil archaeological discovery

Time: 15 September 2020

Saudi Arabia is home to many archaeological treasures spread across its several regions.

Saudi Arabia’s Heritage Authority will unveil a new archaeological discovery made through the joint efforts of Saudi and international excavation teams.

The authority will divulge the details about the discovery at a press conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Dr. Jasser bin Sulaiman Al-Herbish, CEO of the authority, will reveal the location of the site. Representatives of the local and international media will attend the event and be briefed about the methods used to explore the ancient site.

The authority is a Saudi government body established in February 2020 with its headquarters in Riyadh. The authority aims to support efforts to develop the national heritage and protect it from extinction, and to encourage the production and development of content in the sector.

Saudi Arabia is home to many archaeological treasures spread across its several regions.

There are five sites in Saudi Arabia that are currently on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: Al-Ahsa Oasis, Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madain Saleh) in AlUla, Al-Turaif district in Diriyah, Historic Jeddah, and rock art in the Hail region.

Authorities in the Kingdom are making great efforts to preserve and highlight mankind’s shared history.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia was also elected to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

This article was first published in Arab News

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For climbing enthusiast, Saudi Arabia offers up a wealth of options

Time: 15 September 2020

  • It is more of a sport which is learned from other people and through experience

JEDDAH: Fear has held many people back from enjoying even the simplest activities with friends and family such as swimming, going to theme parks and many more.

Nasser Al-Zuhufi, a 29-year-old Saudi, told Arab News he had always been a scared anxious child and fear hindered him from joining in the fun with the rest of his friends and family members.

He decided to break away from his fears unconventionally. He picked up the adrenaline pumping sports rock climbing.

“For as long as I could remember, I was always scared of everything, literally everything. Cats, the mountainous road driving to Taif, speed and rollercoasters. They were unexplained fears. There were no reasons behind them.

“Growing up, this feeling bothered me so much, that I’m holding this much fear. I even adjusted my life to suit my fears, like when I’d go to the theme park, I’d only go to the arcade, not the rollercoasters.”

One day, he decided to face his fears one by one and rode his first rollercoaster at 24 when he was studying in the US.

“It was the first time I felt like I faced a fear. I decided I’ll try it and there’s no going back no matter how I feel. After that, I felt this amazing empowering feeling, it was so liberating. I never felt an adrenaline rush before. That 5-minute experience changed my life.”

His first rock-climbing experience outdoors was in Al-Shafa, a village in Makkah in the summer of 2019.

“The first time I climbed, I feared the height of the rock. I felt like I was going too high too fast and I had to take it very slow to get used to it at the moment. The fear was not overwhelming and it all went away when I reached the end of the route,” he said.

Al-Zuhufi’s most difficult climb was in Lebanon, and he said it was both physically and emotionally stressful. He highlighted the importance of trust between climbers and belayers.

Zaki Kazmi has trained many people for various levels of climbing. (Photo/Supplied)

“Physical because the route was very high so it drained my muscles by the time I got to the hardest point in the route, and emotional because the whole area was new to me, I was climbing with people that I had met for the first time so I did not spend enough climbing time with them to build the trust needed between the climber and belayer.”  “And I never finished that route,” he added.

Saudi-based couple from Pakistan 30-year-old civil engineer Zaki Kazmi and 24-year-old biologist Arshia Zahra Akhtar created an Instagram page (@ our_monkey_business) that documented their rock-climbing adventures in the Kingdom.

The couple said the climbing community is small in general and particularly in the Kingdom, however, it is now rapidly growing.

“It is more of a sport which is learned from each other and through experience. Thus, we always welcomed and supported new climbers. For 8 years in Saudi, I have already trained many people for various levels of climbing, especially outdoors. My wife has also served as a trainer for indoor climbing at a local ladies’ gym, Riyadh,” Kazmi told Arab News.

“We welcome and are available to guide anyone who is interested in the sport or just wants to try the experience,” he added.

Kazmi said he enjoyed climbing in Tanomah, a small town in the south, between Baha and Abha. “I call it the “Yosemite of Saudi Arabia”. I first climbed there in 2016 before it was completely developed by the Saudi Climbing Foundation.”

“The supportive community, dynamic landscape and the rapid development of new climbing places should position Saudi Arabia in one of the top adventure travel destinations.”

He said rock climbing is therapeutic and a chance to connect with nature, away from city distractions.

“Rock climbing is a sport which is nearest to nature. It gives climbers a chance to get away from the city lights and hustle-bustle and get their dose of weekly meditation. It is not just a sport of physical exertion, but also mental strength. A person can strengthen their mental and physical health with continuous climbing therapy.”

Akhtar is currently pursuing her MD/Ph.D. in the US and continues to rock climb there. She said the Kingdom has ideal rock climbing spots and the Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming.

“I have climbed in Massachusetts and Texas in the US, while studying here, and I can say Saudi Arabia does have quality rock climbing locations. The country has endless potential and so many places are yet to be explored, so it is definitely a hidden gem,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming, along with the availability of a vast range of climbing and bouldering routes. So if you are an adrenaline junkie, looking for new climbing routes and are down to explore untouched places; you need to climb in Saudi,” she added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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