Saudi Arabia: How AlUla's development reverberates a message of inclusion, sustainability and culture
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Saudi Arabia: How AlUla’s development reverberates a message of inclusion, sustainability and culture

Saudi Arabia: How AlUla’s development reverberates a message of inclusion, sustainability and culture

The ‘Journey Through Time’ Masterplan is an enormous opportunity for the local residents

Saudi Arabia Alula

To build something great, start with a solid plan.

This is true in many aspects of life and business, and it is a principle that we at the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) have followed in creating The Journey Through Time masterplan for AlUla.

This bold masterplan will guide the first and most important phase of the sustainable development of AlUla. It focuses on the Ancient Oasis that is home to our core heritage sites. This is the heart of the action and will be divided into five districts: AlUla Old Town District, Dadan Distict, Jabal Ikmah District, Nabataean Horizon and Hegra Historical City, the kingdom’s first UNESCO Word Heritage site.

These will all be connected by a 20km green spine, the pedestrian-friendly Wadi of Hospitality.

The first masterplan lays the blueprint for how we as an organisation will build something great. Our work will honour the past and we believe our masterplan likewise creates a clear framework for the growth of something great and global at AlUla.

What are our guiding principles? Here are three of them:

· First, as a direct response to the challenges of sustainably and responsibly developing a fragile desert and heritage environment, our development project must be not only responsible, but sustainable.

Our infrastructure plan will bring the buzz of activity to AlUla, from museums to open-air art galleries, and from an expanded international airport to a 46km Experiential and low-carbon Tram that carries visitors into AlUla by following the path of the old Hijaz Railway. For these visitors, there will be hotels and resorts with more than 5,000 room keys.

Yet at the same time we will be pursuing a carbon-neutral strategy. We need to respect our natural surroundings; for this project to succeed we must maintain the stark magnificence of our setting. We will adapt to nature rather than it to us. An example of our approach is the Sharaan Resort in AlUla, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by the ways of the ancient Nabataean civilisations which once called AlUla their home. The resort will be built directly into the sandstone rock and as such will represent the most meaningful carving in these rocks since the Nabataeans were setting chisel to stone some 2,000 years ago.

· Second, respect for our community in AlUla, empowered as our primary partner in opening the next chapter in AlUla’s legacy.

The ‘Journey Through Time’ Masterplan is an enormous opportunity for the local residents, as we bring them to the world and the world to them. Some will receive training as tour guides, and others as chefs trained at Ferrandi Paris. Already we are supporting the revival of traditional handicrafts and have invigorated the local dates festival. In time, thousands of people will find meaningful work at AlUla as we create jobs across new and vibrant sectors.

· Third, that AlUla should be treated as a Living Museum which enables discovery, exploration and creative expression.

It is a thriving community in which to live and work in harmony with the oasis and AlUla’s natural beauty. The Journey Through Time will reinvigorate the cultural landscape of AlUla by creating the world’s largest Living Museum. Over 15 cultural assets will offer visitors a journey through time – one of legacy and continuity around three main concepts: creativity, knowledge and immersion.

Revitalising AlUla’s legacy as a crossroads of culture set on the historic Incense Road, the arts will be valued as essential components of AlUla’s identity, quality of life and economy. In addition to the Kingdoms Institute, the Hegra Museum and the Perspective Galleries will be among the masterplan’s legacy projects.

Our critical path is embedded in our approach to sustainability. Our roadmap should and must encompasses economic, environmental and social sustainability at its core to move from responsible development to sustainable development.

Our pace is measured in years. The first phase of The Journey Through Time will take us to 2023, by which time we will have consolidated the five districts around the green spine. But full completion of the plan, including strengthening the surrounding villages, will take us to 2035. By that time, we expect to create 38,000 new jobs as we welcome two million visitors a year and contribute SAR120bn annually to the Saudi economy as part of its diversification under Vision 2030 and beyond into the future.

Our new masterplan is our map for this journey – and perhaps someday in the future, students of management history will look back on this moment and remember it as the beginning of something great and global: the revitalisation of AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s gift to the world.

Amr Almadani is the chief executive of the Royal Commission for AlUla

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