By Sam Bridge
Royal Commission for Al Ula unveils plan to create world's largest living museum as part of major tourism push
Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to establish Al Ula as the world's largest living museum, with a target to host two million visitors a year by 2035.
The Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) estimates the project will create more than 67,000 new jobs – almost half of them in the tourism sector.
A milestone in Saudi Arabia's 2030 Vision, the Al Ula framework plan was revealed at the 10th UN World Urban Forum this week.
Visitors to the forum experienced Al Ula through a series of interactive displays designed to transport them to north-west Saudi Arabia, which contains Hegra, the kingdom's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
RCU CEO Amr Al Madani said: "We chose the World Urban Forum as a credible global platform to engage with the worlds leading developers and sustainability experts and share our plans for the long-term, responsible development of Al Ula as worlds largest living museum.
"By combining heritage with nature, we are transforming the cultural landscape of Al Ula and establishing the county as a global tourism destination with a thriving economy and local community.
"We invite experts from around the world to join us on our journey which means we learn and innovate together. We see a clear road ahead as we attract investment and continue to protect, preserve, share and celebrate our heritage and nature with the world.
"Not only have we opened our doors to travellers benefiting from Saudi Arabia's new tourist visas, we've also delivered the infrastructure that is central to growth."
He added that a new airport has the potential to become a transport and logistic hub for the region, while Maraya, a new 500-seat theatre, is the largest mirrored structure in the world.
Francesca Arici, the RCU's acting chief county zoning and planning officer, said: "We are moving at pace but ensuring we embrace the needs and demands of the local community as we work together for a common goal. A number of major infrastructure plans have already been realised and it is anticipated that we will introduce new building permits and design guidelines to Al Ula as early as March, boosting local economic growth and prosperity."
The RCU said it has already engaged hospitality training for residents to create teams of Rowah (tour guides), wildlife rangers and Hammayah (heritage guardians).
Around 80 percent of Al Ula will be protected, including cultural and natural heritage sites, where the RCU will work hand in hand with the local community to ensure the sensitive protection preservation and development.
Al Madani added: "The balanced development strategy places people first as part of a broader commitment to become an open living museum for the world and a global centre for culture, heritage, arts and eco-tourism projects. Al Ula is Saudi Arabia's gift to the world."
Located 1,100km from Riyadh in north-west Saudi Arabia, Al Ula includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.
The RCU was established by royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard Al Ula.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.