World’s richest horse race Saudi Cup to ‘open doors’ for tourists to Saudi Arabia


Race billed as the richest on the planet with prize fund of $20 million
Visa procedures for the event were also confirmed on Monday
LONDON: Next year’s Saudi Cup horse race in Riyadh will help open up Saudi Arabia to visitors from around the world, Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia chairman Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal said on Monday.

The race, billed as the richest on the planet with a prize fund of $20 million, will be run at the King Abdul Aziz racetrack in Riyadh on Feb. 29.

The race over a distance of nine furlongs (1,800 meters) on the dirt track will have a maximum field of 14 starters and will be free to enter and to participate in.

Prince Bandar told Arab News the race will allow visitors to the Kingdom an opportunity to enjoy everything the country has to offer.

“This event was initiated by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, it has been two years in the making, and we were extremely encouraged by the position of the government,” he said.

“They have been very supportive in everything they can do to ensure it is a successful event, there is a definite political will to do so.”

Prince Bandar referred to an announcement earlier this month that Saudi Arabia would open its doors to tourists from around the world by the end of 2019.

“So that works for us very nicely,” he added.

Prince Bandar said while the prize money was obviously important in building the reputation of the event, it was not the sole reason for its hosting and that he hoped it would establish Saudi Arabia as a major racing nation on the global stage.

“It definitely falls in line with the kind of activities that are now opening up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and culture to people from all over the world, so that they can come and experience the country first-hand and have the opportunity to see a part of the world that has not been visited as often as we would like.

“The introduction of the Saudi Cup as an international race is without doubt the most significant event in the history of horse racing in Saudi Arabia and it demonstrates our resolve to develop this great sport in the Kingdom and also our ambition to become a leading player on horse racing’s world stage,” he added.

During his address in central London Prince Bandar said: “We will be thrilled to welcome international competitors to these new races. I am especially pleased that we will be having turf racing in Riyadh for the first time, things are really beginning to take shape.”

The prince also said he was keen for women jockeys and trainers to get involved with the Saudi Cup, adding they would be “most welcome” to compete at the event, and that he hoped it would entice some of the world’s most promising female talent.

“Women have been very active in equestrianism as a whole in the Kingdom, it is quite normal in Saudi Arabia for them to compete at that level,” he said.

Also announced at the London launch were the meeting’s support races, which include a staying handicap race run over 3,000 meters, a middle-distance race over 2,100 meters, while the two races on the dirt track are over 1,200 meters and 1,600 meters.

Tom Ryan, Saudi Cup Race Director, said the races and the horses competing in them had been selected to offer the most competitive spectacle possible for the estimated 10,000-12,000 expected to be watching at the racetrack itself and global television audiences.

World-renowned jockey Frankie Dettori also spoke at the event and described his experiences of running horses on the King Abdul Aziz dirt track.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have been going there for a number of years, and the quality of the dirt track in Riyadh is second to none, probably the best I’ve ridden on.

“I’ve ridden European horses on it, and they take to it really well, and the new turf track will give the day even more appeal.

“I’m sure this is going to attract a lot of interest from around the world, I hope I’ll be there on the starting line come February 29.”

Visa procedures for the event were also confirmed on Monday, with the Saudi Cup following a similar system used by recent sporting events hosted in Saudi Arabia. Racegoers who buy a ticket for the Saudi Cup will automatically receive a visa to enter the Kingdom.

Prince Bandar said: “In Saudi Arabia, we’ve had experience with Formula E and other such events, whether it is in hospitality or entertainment and we have no problem with accommodation for those involved with the horses or who wish to attend the event.

“We will also be providing programs and packages for people who wish to tour Saudi Arabia, whether it is for the archaeology, for nature, or the seas, deserts or mountains — we have everything accounted for.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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How Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula went from being underdeveloped…to having negative unemployment

Time: May 20, 2019

More than 60 balloons take to the sky, giving rides to visitors during the Hot Air Balloon Festival. (UPI)
  • Al-Ula is home to ancient Nabatien sites and the Winter at Tantora festival which hosted Yanni and Andrea Bocelli
  • In three years it has reached a negative unemployment rate of -2 percent, showing how Vision 2030 can work

RIYADH: 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.”

Mirrors outside the Maraya concert hall. (Itar-Tass)

Fired by ambition, many locals say they want to work as managers or hold equivalent job titles.

The perception of some of Al-Ula’s residents is that some senior-level positions have been filled by talent from bigger cities who have more experience in fields such as hotel management and marketing.

However, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU) has a promising plan to develop skills and deepen the job market.

“The people of Al-Ula are at the heart of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula’s drive to encourage economic prosperity for current and future generations,” said the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani.

“The people of Al-Ula hosted 37,000 visitors from 72 countries around the world during the first successful annual Winter at Tantora festival.”

Ahmed Alimam, a senior tourism development officer at the RCU, told Arab News: “The people of Al-Ula are hugely encouraged by the opportunities continually opening up through Al-Ula’s positioning on the (economic) map.”

He said: “Al-Ula has long been a destination that has welcomed visitors from around the world in its capacity as a historic crossroads and as a place for pilgrims to rest during their journeys.”

The Elephant rock in the Ula desert. (AFP)

He added: “Our ancestors had long guided visitors across the desert, but with the advent of modern-day transport, this role had almost disappeared. Now, we’re sharing our heritage with the world once again.”

The RCU has worked up palpable enthusiasm in Al-Ula over its potential as an outstanding destination for tourists.

Scholarships and training are broadening horizons, meaning that people in Al-Ula are learning from global best practices.

“An entrepreneurial spirit is truly encouraged, with young men and women applying for business licenses and investing in equipment, and even farmers building residential units and huts inside farms and between palm trees,” Alimam said.

The RCU has hired young Saudis from Al-Ula to be trained to become park rangers.

A Saudi park ranger. (Royal Commission for Al-Ula)

They will work to preserve and develop the wildlife in the park, which will have breeding programs for rare and endangered species that are native to the region.

“The rangers have been trained by expert rangers from the College of African Wildlife Management Tanzania (CAWM) from Mweka, which is the leading institution for professional and technical training in wildlife and tourism management in Africa,” said Al-Madani.

“Additionally, qualified and highly experienced staff are offering research and consultancy services to enhance wildlife management at Sharaan, and are now sharing their knowledge with young people in Al-Ula.”

Scholarships are a strong incentive for the people of Al-Ula to be ambitious about their career plans.

The first scholarship phase, which started in 2018, saw a total of 168 students head for studies in the UK, the US and France.

“Following a hugely successful first year, the program is being expanded. In its second year, we’re sending 300 students overseas to the existing three countries as well as Australia,” said Dr. Rami Al-Sakran, director of the RCU’s scholarship program.

“The RCU launched its scholarship program in 2018, with the objective of giving successful applicants the opportunity to pursue degrees at prestigious universities and academic institutions overseas,” he added.

“This is a key pillar in the RCU’s commitment to working with the local community to build their capabilities and empower the region’s development,” he said.

“Recently, we hosted the first midyear summit for our phase 1 students, in the US, the UK and France. We were enormously proud to see the progress they’ve made so far as they get a world-class education and actively engage in new cultures, broadening their horizons.”

Many locals, including Rawan Abdul-Rahman, an organizer of Winter at Tantora, are happy with the opportunities that have been presented to them.

“It was an amazing experience. It gave us opportunities and opened doors for us,” she said.

“Even our families, who are conservative and would’ve never approved of anything like this before, were ecstatic and encouraged us to take part in all the events. This is something unprecedented given our conservative backgrounds.”

Summing up the experience of the local population, Abdul-Rahman added: “Al-Ula not only opened us to the world, it also opened the world to us.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Jeddah museum to showcase Arab, Islamic heritage


The amazing architecture of the Abdul Raouf Khalil Museum takes us on an astonishing journey back to the Jeddah of the old days where wooden carvings dominated most of the urban architecture, especially doors and windows.
The museum will open its doors to visitors of the Jeddah Global Village, Saudi Arabia’s first multicultural festival, from March 25 until April 24.
The village, which will be organized at nearby Al-Tayebat International City, in Al-Faisaliah, is expected to attract over a million visitors.
The museum includes a Saudi Arabian heritage section, an Islamic heritage pavilion, an international heritage area and a public heritage exhibition as part of the festival, featuring a host of priceless historical artifacts.
“Some of the items here date back millions of years,” a museum official told Arab News.
Suzan Eskander, the director general of the company organizing the event, International Image, said: “Participants from some 50 countries are adding finishing touches to their pavilions as I speak.
“There will be pavilions for representatives from five Gulf Cooperation Council states, 10 Arab countries, as well as 18 countries from Africa, 10 from Europe and four countries from Central and South America.”
She added that national folk dances would be performed by troupes from each participating nation.
“Performers will be dressed in traditional costumes. Visitors can also enjoy dishes and traditional products from each of the different countries.”
Eskander confirmed that paintings and other artworks, portraying and representing the heritage and cultural history from the different countries, would be on display. She expressed her gratitude to the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for their continued support and cooperation to make the village a reality.

This article was first published in  Arab News

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Uncovering ancient kingdoms, Saudi Arabia develops modern sites in al-Ula

Time: February 14, 2019  

Al-Ula is notable for its natural heritage and rich history. It is home to important historical and archaeological sites. (RCU)

On Sunday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched mega tourism projects in the ancient desert city of al-Ula in Saudi Arabia. The projects implemented by the Royal Commission for the Governorate of al-Ula include the global fund for the Arabian leopard, the Sharaan Nature Reserve, and the Sharaan Resort, which will attract tourists to the area.

Tourism is one of the key aspects of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 to diversify the Saudi economy.

During the launch, The Royal Commission for al-Ula announced its commitment to protecting the Arabian leopard through the creation of The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard, which is the largest conservation fund for this endangered species.

The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard will enable the Sharaan Nature Reserve to become a suitable area for releasing and reintroducing the Arabian Leopard in future. (File photo: Shutterstock)

“The beautiful canyon area of Sharaan is now a designated nature reserve, setting a new standard in the region for re-balancing ecosystems and reflecting Saudi Arabia’s commitment to protecting the natural environment of al-Ula. The Sharaan Nature Reserve initiative includes the establishment of a global fund for the protection and reproduction of the Arabian leopard,” said Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan al-Saud, Saudi Minster of Culture and Governor of the Royal Commission for al-Ula.

Al-Ula was the site of the winter festival titled “Winter at Tantora,” which ran from Decenber 2018 until February 2019. The festival offered its visitors a wide range of activities and entertainment performances.

“There are many spectacular places in the Kingdom that we don’t know about,” said Saudi national Fares al-Mashat, who recently visited al-Ula. “I was amazed by the natural landscape.”

The launch of the Sharaan Nature Reserve is one of the key strategic projects, which focuses on the rehabilitation of the region’s natural ecosystem and the reintroduction of wild species into the reserve.

“Our ambitions for al-Ula is led by a firm commitment to preserve and nurture human and cultural heritage, and stems from the vision of our beloved kingdom,” Prince Badr said.

Al-Ula’s mountain landscape will serve as the foundation of the Sharaan Resort, which will employ architecture inspired and hosted by the area’s nature. The resort will be designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect who designed the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Rich in cultural heritage

Al-Ula valley is located 300km north of Medina in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The area is notable for its natural heritage and rich history. The area is home to a series of important historical and archaeological sites such as Mada’in Saleh and al-Khuraybah.

The ancient city of Mada’in Saleh is Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, also known as Al-Hijr and Hegra. It was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and is comprised of more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement.

Al-Khuraybah (ancient Dadan) was the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms. It is considered to be one of the most developed 1st-millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula.

“The public launch of our vision for al-Ula is an exciting step forward in our journey to protect the natural heritage of the region and share its rich cultural history around the globe,” said Amr Al Madani, the CEO of the Royal Commission for al-Ula.

Embedded video

الهيئة الملكية لمحافظة العلا


Launching the AlUla vision is more than just an event, it is both our promise to the region and the world as we move forward, inviting the world to join us in protection of this world heritage site!

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Where We Are Going Today: Durrah Beach Resort

Time: February 14, 2019  

  • Located 45 minutes from Jeddah, Durrah Beach Resort is a huge haven overlooking the Red Sea

One of my earliest memories is of my feet submerged in the bluest of blue waters at Durrah Beach Resort. It has been like a second home to my family, a place we visit when we want to escape the noise and bustle of the city, relax and recharge our batteries.
As an adult, I still enjoy getting away from it all at the resort and losing myself to the water and the warmth of the sun. Whether I am enjoying the hotel facilities or relaxing on the private beach, I have come to associate the place with family gatherings and reunions with friends.
Located 45 minutes from Jeddah, Durrah Beach Resort is a huge haven overlooking the Red Sea. There is also a marina that offers a wide range of activities, from jet skis for two or a jet boat for the whole family, to scuba diving, snorkeling and other water sports. For the less daring, or energetic, the resort also has some wonderful fishing spots, and you can dine on your own catch.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The vision of Al-Ula

Time: February 11, 2019  

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched on Sunday mega tourism projects in Al-Ula, including a resort designed by a renowned French architect and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan.

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This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia rich with undiscovered archeological sites

Time: January 24, 2019

  • “Our discoveries confirm that Farasan Island was inhabited by humans since prehistoric times,” says archaeologist
  • 10,000 sites have only been discovered in recent years

RIYADH: Archaeological digs in Saudi Arabia, according to Dr. Abdullah Al-Zahrani, General Director of Archaeological research Studies at the Saudi commission for Tourism and National Heritage, are increasing at an unprecedented rate.

“We discover new sites every day in Saudi,” he said, adding that there are over 100,000 sites of archaeological interest in the country. “Today we have more than 44 Saudi and international missions working in the Kingdom. Of those, 21 are from Germany, France, Italy, the US, the UK, Japan and China.”

It is a strange scenario, especially given that 10,000 of those sites have only been discovered in recent years. “The largest number of missions are from France,” Al-Zahrani added. “They are very interested in the history of the Arabian Peninsula.”

The Saudi-French archaeological mission in Jazan region, led by Dr. Soline Marion de Bros, an archaeologist from the French National Center for Scientific Research, is one of the most prominent – and successful – teams working in the Kingdom today. Working to uncover the past of the Arabian Peninsula, it has been carrying out archaeological excavations on Farasan Island since 2017.

So far, the team has revealed 30 sites dating back to pre-Islamic periods, including a number of settlements, animal remains including deer, cows, horses and turtles, and various finds including ancient Arabic inscriptions, and sites dating back to the Roman Empire.

“Our discoveries confirm that Farasan Island was inhabited by humans since prehistoric times,” said de Bros. “Since then, Farasan Island has been known for its cultural and commercial activities in the southern regions of the Red Sea, and in the northern part of the Great Farasan.”

The future of archaeology on Farasan Island is exciting. The next steps, according to de Bros, are to map the entirety of the island’s sites, creating a guide to its historical timeline and development. More local archaeologists, from academics to diggers, are also set for specialized training, to help uncover and preserve some of the Kingdom’s most precious new sites.

For Al-Zahrani, the progress is hardly surprising.

“Most of these missions have unanswered questions about our history and they know that the answers can be found here,” he said. “At the beginning of the 19th century, the Arabian Peninsula was a mystery to Orientalists, but they didn’t want to venture into the desert sands. However, in the late 19th century they came and got to know the lands and the people.

“Many sites were registered at that time, especially in the 1970’s, when a comprehensive archaeological survey was done. The results of that time provided a vast list of archeological sites,” he added.


This article was first published in Arab News

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Umrah guests visit historic sites in Madinah, Saudi Arabia

Time: December 17, 2018

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The guests of the 13th batch of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Umrah visited Islamic sites in Madinah. (SPA)

JEDDAH: The guests of the 13th batch of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Umrah on Sunday visited Islamic sites in Madinah and the King Fahd Complex for Printing the Holy Qur’an.
The head of planning department of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Djibouti, Dr. Othman Hussein Mohammed, thanked King Salman for making all-out efforts to serve Islam and Muslims all over the world.
The guests — comprising 203 figures from eight African countries — thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the generous hospitality, services and facilities provided for them since they left their countries until their arrival in the Kingdom. They are from Ethiopia, Senegal, Comoros, Djibouti, Mali, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda.
With the arrival of the 13th batch of guests, the total number has reached 2,803 from various countries since the start of the program. Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammed Salih Bentin earlier received separately in Makkah the heads of the Iraqi, Malaysian and Nigerian Hajj delegations.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Sakaka’s Zaabal Castle

Time: November 24, 2018      

The Zaabal Castle in Sakaka . (Getty Images photo)
  • Zaabal Castle’s mud and stone-built walls tell tales of the past
  • The fort consists of a reservoir and four towers that are connected by a single wall

JEDDAH: Nestled atop a mountain in the city of Sakaka in northwest Saudi Arabia, Zaabal Castle is more than a centuries-old structure. Its mud and stone-built walls tell tales of the past.

The castle also happens to reside atop a water well system that spans the entire city and has been a source of supply to the city’s inhabitants for centuries.

In fact, the wells are so large that you could walk through them, but they remain sealed off to the public because of health and safety reasons.

The fort consists of a reservoir and four towers that are connected by a single wall. Although the castle is believed to have been built 200 years ago, some structures are said to date back to the 1st-century Nabataean era. Indeed, the castle has stood the test of time and the perils of wars.

Aside from being an archaeological marvel, the fort sits at the highest point in the entire area, offering impressive panoramic views of the city.

The castle is open for tourism for anyone fascinated by the rich Arab history this region has to offer.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Marriott opens world’s largest Four Points by Sheraton in Makkah

Time : August 01, 2018

The hotel giant aims to double its 24 hotels in Saudi Arabia over the next five years in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030

Marriott International announced today it has opened the world’s largest Four Points by Sheraton hotel in the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

Four Points by Sheraton Makkah Al Naseem features over 1,136 rooms (including 121 suites), four dining outlets and nearly 1,000 sqm of event space. It is situated in the Al Naseem district and in close proximity to the center of Makkah and the holy Masjid al-Haram.

“The trajectory for religious tourism into Saudi Arabia continues to grow, resulting in a strong demand for hotels in the Holy Cities,” said Alex Kyriakidis, President and Managing Director, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International.

The hotel is Marriott’s fifth property in Makkah and 24th in Saudi Arabia, though the firm intends on doubling its presence in the Kingdom over the next five years in line with Saudi’s Vision 2030, Kyriakidis said.

The hotel’s four dining concepts include Al Sharq– an all-day-dining venue which offers traditional Arabic cuisine, Asia House – serving a variety of Asian dishes and two lobby cafés offering fresh and delicious take away food and beverages.

The hotel’s event space includes a grand ballroom and three flexible meeting rooms – all equipped with state-of-the-art technology and complimentary WiFi. A dedicated retail area and supermarket are also available on site.

Other facilities at the hotel include dedicated fitness centers for men and women, a children’s play area and a complimentary shuttle to and from the Holy Mosque, Masjid al-Haram.

This article was first published in  arabian Business

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