Ancient meets modern

Features Middle East
Ancient meets modern

Saudi Arabia has, in recent years, reached out to the world of leisure and business tourism with international campaigns. it is a destination looking to make a mark, a sentiment reflected by its stunning Mirror building in Al-‘ula.

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest tourism destination in the Middle East, although most has been religious tourism. Advertising and marketing campaigns, allied to some new visa options, helped push the Kingdom’s international tourism sector’s value to over $25bn in 2019. Tourist visas, including e-visas, were introduced for citizens of 49 countries for a fee of $80. That first rush of tourists was led by those from China, the UK and the US.

Although in-person conference business at Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Centre – the Kingdom’s No. 1 congress facility – remains suspended due to Covid, the facility had been recording 70% occupancy rates pre-pandemic and has regularly staged major national events. It is also a member of the Arab Union for International Exhibitions and Conventions. The RICEC calendar of major events does show bookings from September 2021, albeit mainly national Saudi events.

Saudi Arabia, like most, has embraced hybrid conferencing too, with the hosting of the G20 Summit with world leaders online in November 2020.

When pandemic restrictions do ease, the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 will be the strategic blueprint for modernising the country and creating new sources of revenue and job creation as the country continues to reduce its reliance on the energy sector.

Tourism and business tourism have a role here including via the so-called ‘giga’ infrastructure projects that are being built throughout the Kingdom. Vision 2030 aims to raise the contribution of tourism from 3% of GDP, to 10%  by 2030.

Mirror on MICE

Al-’Ula in the northwest of Saudi Arabia is home to many thousands of years of history, and is likely to be a focus of any future high-end incentives travel. Recognised as a crossroads of 7,000 years of successive civilisations, it is 325km north of Medina.

Historically, Al-’Ula  became a vital crossroads along the famous incense trading routes, running from southern Arabia north into Egypt, the Mediterranean and beyond. With oases dotting the area, it offered much-needed respite for weary travellers.

Sandstone mountains add to the dramatic backdrop of Al-’Ula’s geography and geology. It is here that you will find Maraya, or ‘Mirror’ in Arabic, a multi-purpose concert and world-class event venue and a true feat of modern engineering. It is a structure wrapped in 10,000sqm of mirrors.

Designed by Italian Architects Gio Forma, Maraya is a centrepiece in Saudi Arabia’s ambitious development plans.

Stars including José Carreras, Lionel Richie and Andrea Bocelli, have performed to sold-out audiences at Maraya.  The venue has already hosted 18 Nobel laureates during a conference and caters for events via three main dining areas and an open-air roof terrace.

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World. Write Paul an E-mail

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