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The partnership with the World Bank puts the development of AlUla on the fast track towards sustainability

RIYADH: The Royal Commission for AlUla aims to transform Saudi Arabia’s ancient northwestern desert landmark into a regional and global hub for international visitors, investors and businesses.

That goal is not unrealistic given the Saudi government’s ambitious plan to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil, including through multi-billion dollar investments in the travel and tourism sectors.

But to make the most of AlUla’s unique historical attractions, the RCU must meet the economic needs of the local community and identify and address areas for sustainable capacity growth and development.

To meet the challenge, RCU signed a strategic partnership with the World Bank to develop AlUla. Over the course of a renewable year-long partnership, the two companies will transform the local economy by identifying and developing small and medium-sized businesses focused on tourism, encouraging investment, creating jobs and strengthening the community.

Nabataean-era tombs carved into limestone formations are a common feature at AlUla. (included)

“A more dynamic, inclusive and resilient landscape for businesses and employees is a major milestone on the … roadmap to achieving economic sustainability across AlUla County,” the RCU said in a statement late last month.

The deal comes under the World Bank’s partnership with the Saudi Ministry of Finance and complements the RCU’s growing network of international partners, which include UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

As part of the new partnership, the World Bank will help RCU create the necessary framework to manage and support its goals of local community development and landscape conservation of AlUla.

“The partnership builds on previous collaborations to provide technical advice based on the World Bank’s global knowledge and experience, including in sustainable tourism development and cultural heritage,” Issam Abousleiman, the World Bank’s GCC representative, told Arab News .

Moataz Kurdi of the Royal Commission for AlUla and Issam Abousleiman of the World Bank have signed an agreement aimed at protecting AlUla’s heritage and flora, including rock art and oases. (included)

Abousleiman commended the RCU’s work to date “to leverage the World Bank’s wide-ranging expertise to provide advisory services, knowledge management and capacity building focused on social, environmental and economic sustainability in the development of AlUla.”

AlUla was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Its dramatic rock formations, lush oases and archaeological sites, including the ancient ruins of Dadan and Lihyan, have attracted tens of thousands of visitors since opening to tourists in October 2020.

As of June this year, the region had welcomed more than 250,000 visitors in the previous 12 months, far exceeding initial expectations, RCU executive director John Northern told Arab News at the time.

Unveiled in April 2021, AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan spans 10 million square feet of rejuvenated green space and envisages the development of five distinct districts anchored on five heritage sites. There are also 15 new cultural properties ranging from museums to art galleries.

AlUla is full of archaeological treasures from the Dadanite, Nabataean, Roman and Islamic civilizations, nestled in beautiful desert landscapes. (included)

Upon completion in 2035, developers say it will create 38,000 new jobs among a local population expected to grow to 130,000 and contribute $32 billion to the kingdom’s gross domestic product.

According to the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development Through Tourism, developed by the UN World Tourism Organization UNWTO and the G20 Working Group on Tourism, “Tourism is one of the fastest growing and most resilient socio-economic sectors of our time”. 7 percent of world trade in 2019.

In addition, tourism is “an effective means of contributing to and achieving inclusive community development and the Sustainable Development Goals, in line with the goals of the G20 Presidency: empowering people, especially women and youth; protecting the planet and creating new frontiers that embrace and shape new realms through innovation.”

The RCU has placed sustainability, economic regeneration and respect for local communities at the heart of its development strategy. The commission says more than 3,000 jobs have already been created in the local tourism sector.


• RCU signed a three-stage agreement in November to develop arts and culture, hospitality, community development and infrastructure in AlUla through 2035.

• RCU forecasts that the region’s population will triple to 130,000 by 2035 and create around 38,000 new jobs.

• RCU aims to create 38,000 new jobs and contribute $32 billion to UK GDP by 2035.

“This new agreement supports RCU in a key area of ​​our development model – the continued expansion of a diverse and dynamic tourism sector that empowers local people and welcomes a diverse audience of international guests,” said Moataz Kurdi, RCU Chief County Operations Officer. said Arab News.

“This partnership with the World Bank means that AlUla’s ongoing renewal will continue to be sustainable, inclusive and resilient, with far-reaching community benefits activated through new employment, new opportunities and long-term economic progress – achieved through a comprehensive governance structure and project development and Implementation.

“RCU understands that sustainability isn’t a business – it’s how you run your business. It is an existential challenge that determines our actions in all areas. As we quickly moved from ambition to plan to action, creating in AlUla a destination of culture, art, heritage and natural beauty for the entire world, we must deliver sustainability – through innovation, decisive action and meaningful results. ”

As part of the new partnership, the World Bank will help RCU create the necessary framework to manage and support its goals of local community development and landscape conservation of AlUla. (included)

Sustainable regeneration for AlUla is the ability to bring about true generational change for people and create long-term economic growth through transforming communities and preserving ancient landmarks, traditions and cultures, he said.

“We strengthen people and places, expand economic opportunities and preserve our common past,” added Kurdi.

Sustainable regeneration also includes taking action to repair what is damaged or destroyed, and in the case of AlUla and the partnership, this means the strategic repair and maintenance of historic sites in the area.

The goals of the RCU-World Bank partnership align with the environmental goals outlined by world leaders at the UN climate change conference COP27, held in November in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

“Our focus is on the people and the planet,” said Kurdi. “Community support and development, and the preservation and protection of the natural world are fully integrated into this partnership. Our perception of its success will be based on the achievement of our clear, long-term sustainability goals.”

In fact, the World Bank is part of a global network supporting the RCU in its goal to plant 10 million trees and 200 native plant species by 2035, expand its nursery to seed millions of native plants, welcome 200,000 visitors to its protected areas and increase the population of native animal species in their breeding centers prior to their release into the wild.

RCU aims to create thousands of new jobs by the middle of the next decade. (included)

AlUla’s redevelopment plan also includes the construction of infrastructure that will be designed and developed in a sustainable manner using environmentally friendly materials.

The partnership between the RCU and the World Bank is currently in the evaluation phase. “Visibility of shared outcomes, critical tools, policies and ideas will help the partnership build strong cultural, social and financial strategies at the operational level while increasing their chances of success,” said Kurdi.

The success of the plan will be measured against various benchmarks set according to defined phases and principles to shape the implementation as well as the technical expectations, including coordination between RCU and World Bank experts.

Kurdi added, “We have high expectations of our partnership with the World Bank to achieve physical, social and fiscal sustainability within AlUla while meeting our quality of life goals.”


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