Saudi Arabia has agreed with Europe’s biggest hotel group Accor for the group to expand and operate a resort at the US$20 billion (RM83.7 billion) Al-Ula tourism project in the kingdom’s northwestern region, the Royal Commission for the project said yesterday.
Al-Ula, the site of an ancient civilization in a remote northwestern corner of the country, is part of plans by the world’s top crude exporter to diversify its economy away from oil and open up after decades of seclusion.
The project is located in the Ashar valley, 15 km from the Kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Hegra.
Al-Ula’s development is part of a push to preserve pre-Islamic heritage sites in order to attract non-Muslim tourists and strengthen national identity. It plans an official opening to the world as a year-round destination in October 2020.
The kingdom closed its borders to foreign “umrah” pilgrims and to tourists from at least 25 countries in late February. In March, it barred all travel in and out of the country. Saudi Arabia has reported 287,262 cases of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and 3,130 deaths so far. — REUTERS