AlUla is a timeless landscape of towering rock formations and verdant oasis in north west Saudi Arabia. People have lived and congregated here for millennia, building thriving civilisations.
Now, the region is going through a transformation of epic proportions that will protect its legacy for the future.
Shaping this change is the comprehensive Journey Through Time Masterplan, which was designed under the leadership of HRH the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the guidance of HH Prince Badr, the Saudi Minister of Culture and the Governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).
With sustainability at its core, the developments accomplished through the Masterplan will contribute towards both the nation’s Vision 2030 program to reduce its dependence on oil and the Saudi Green Initiative to tackle climate change.
But in addition to the environmental aspects of sustainability, the designers have also scrutinised over how to make it work for the local residents.
The result is a community inclusivity directive covering diverse initiatives that will not only engage residents in protecting the heritage sites and the natural landscape but also help to uplift them and build up their skills for new jobs and careers in the future.
Using tourism to drive change
An important part of establishing low impact eco-tourism is conservation and preservation and the Masterplan has several initiatives to address this.
To engage the local community, residents of all ages are offered the opportunity to participate in archaeological visits to AlUla’s heritage sites so they can understand first hand the legacy here and what it is they’re protecting. And through the Masterplan’s Hammayah programme, residents are given the practical skills to become guardians of this legacy.
Residents are also heavily involved in the development of the tourism initiatives at AlUla. For example, the elders who lived in AlUla Old Town are being encouraged to share their stories, the recordings of which will be woven into the cultural offering at the heritage site.
Along the same vein, the AlRowah programme is training residents to become accomplished storytellers who can work as tour guides and bring the history of AlUla to life.
Connecting AlUla to the world
With tourism set to become a key driver for the local economy, a number of training facilities and initiatives are being set up in AlUla, including the Languages Institute and the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management.
The idea is very much to enable the residents to learn and interact with visitors and foster a cultural exchange that will help AlUla’s development on the world’s stage.
To that end, the Masterplan has also made room for a number of international scholarships where students are being sent to other countries to learn. So far, over 400 students have been sent to Australia, France, the UK, and the USA for Diplomas, Bachelors and Master’s degrees in tourism, hospitality, history, archaeology and agricultural technologies.
Another such exchange is with Ferrandi Paris, one of the leading culinary schools in France, where 24 graduates from AlUla are currently receiving their training as part of a tailored four-month course that will help them become world class chefs.
These will build the foundations on which AlUla will continue to evolve well into the future.
Fostering entrepreneurial spirit
Aside from supporting a blossoming tourism industry, there’s a concerted effort to develop a grassroots entrepreneurial spirit too.
A business incubator is being established as part of that. It will help young people develop the skills needed to create their own flourishing businesses and support them through the process.
One example of that is the Peregrina Centre, which specialises in extracting and testing oils from the peregrina plants that are native to AlUla for use in cosmetics and beauty products. Currently, all eight of its staff are from AlUla and, through their work at the Centre, have been trained in everything from manufacturing to retail.
There’s also Madrasat Addeera, the former girls-only school that’s being transformed into a hub for artists and artisans.
There, residents can attend workshops led in partnership with the London-based Prince’s Foundation and Edinburgh-based Turquoise Mountain in traditional crafts such as ceramics and palm weaving, picking up skills that could one day be used to create their own art and handicraft products.
Initiatives like these make it clear: Journey Through Time isn’t about starting afresh, it’s about borrowing the knowledge and creativity that’s always existed in AlUla and evolving it for the future. The people of AlUla need to be and are at the very heart of that change.
Learn more about AlUla and the Journey Through Time Masterplan here.