DUBAI: Amr Al-Madani is in no doubt about the significance of the AlUla heritage project he is heading up for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “It is our yellow oil,” he said — a reference to the sandy landscape in the northwest of the country, just over 100 km from the Red Sea coast.
In fact, the stunning photography that is produced as part of the AlUla marketing campaign shows a location only yellow in parts: All shades of red sandstone are mixed with brilliant hues of ochre, and even give way to verdant green in the lush oasis areas of the ancient site.
Those visuals are currently on show at the Institut du Monde Arabe exhibition in Paris in a flagship marketing event for AlUla — the “wonder of Arabia” — in one of the intellectual hubs of Europe.
But Al-Madani — the chief executive of the royal commission that oversees the project — is right when he highlights the riches of the “open, living museum.” It is a potential revenue earner for the Kingdom which — while not as financially fruitful as the cold hard cash from crude oil — is just as important for the Vision 2030 strategy to transform its economy.
AlUla has become the “poster child” for the initiative to attract tourists from within the Kingdom and from abroad.
By 2030, the aim is for tourism, leisure and entertainment to make up 10 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP, which could make it a $100 billion industry.
It is an ambitious target, but Al-Madani sees it in the context of the other big changes going on in Saudi Arabia. “What is happening is off the curve altogether,” he said.
The project has huge potential.
The site has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years, and reached its apogee as the southern gateway to the Nabatean civilization that also produced the wonders of Petra in Jordan, one of the most visited heritage sites in the world.