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RCU, Habitas begin work on creating experiential resort in Ashar Valley
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 19 - 08 - 2020

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has started construction of a new community-focused, eco-friendly resort in the desert canyons of Ashar Valley, AlUla, following the signing of a new partnership with Habitas.
RCU is expanding AlUla's economic opportunities through light-touch tourism and sustainable development, while Habitas is redefining modern luxury by focusing on bringing likeminded but diverse travelers together, who prioritize human connection and experiences over the traditional luxury experience of five-star hotels.
Habitas, a brand popular with a new generation of discerning travelers, has resorts in Tulum, Mexico, and in other locations in Asia and Africa. It began as a diverse community of people who would come together around immersive events, seeking human connection, authentic experiences and a better future.
AlUla, in northwestern Saudi Arabia and home to the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, has undergone an experiential tourism transformation in recent years. AlUla's heritage sites are set to re-open to visitors in October.
With the first phase delivering 50 keys by the first quarter of 2021, Habitas is also planning to empower and enable AlUla's communities through micro-economies within the hotel, tourism, and the wider hospitality industries. This approach reflects RCU and Habitas' shared focus on social and sustainable development.
Commenting on this collaboration, Amr AlMadani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: "This agreement reflects our commitment to making AlUla a global destination that offers visitors unique, authentic experiences as we protect, share and celebrate our natural and cultural heritage. Construction is under way, a fact that signals that we are actively opening up new opportunities for regional and international investors in the hospitality sector while empowering and enabling our community."
Oliver Ripley, CEO of Habitas added: "From our very first trip to AlUla we were really inspired by the people we met and by its natural beauty and heritage. Travel is an incredible gift to create greater compassion and understanding in the world between different people and cultures.
"We are grateful to RCU for the opportunity to create our home here and invite our community to discover the unique history of AlUla, to share unforgettable experiences and adventures, and make new friends that stay with us long after we leave."
Ripley continued, "RCU's approach to sustainable development aligns very closely to our values and DNA and in our mission to support local communities. The world, now more than ever, needs to create places for people to reconnect with one another and with nature."
Guided by 12 strategic principles drawn from the Commission's Framework Plan and Charter, AlUla's approach to development balances innovation with heritage, arts and culture while unlocking economic potential to provide new opportunities for the local community.
The collaboration further supports RCU's Cultural Manifesto for AlUla, which details the principle cultural landscape developments planned for the area over the next 10 years. By 2035, RCU expects to host two million visitors annually.
Habitas's unique vertical integration (design, off-site modular construction, operations) allows it to create its hotels using sustainable materials, manufactured in its facilities in Mexico and delivered and assembled -on- site minimising its impact on the environment.
This approach supports RCU's commitment to achieving on-time delivery as AlUla prepares to welcome visitors for the winter season. The first phase, which includes delivery of 50 keys, will be completed in the first quarter of 2021 with more phases scheduled for completion later next year.
Designed to blend seamlessly with AlUla's landscape and heritage, the resort will also emphasize experiential luxury through unique, culturally engaging, authentic experiences that immerse guests in the environment, heritage and people of the AlUla region.
The framework for inclusive community projects includes a number of initiatives that will be rolled-out in phases:
Sourcing local handicrafts for an authentic guest experience. To support this endeavour, Habitas will collaborate with the AlUla Girls School, a former girls-only school that was transformed into a lively hub for AlUla nurturing local artists and artisans. This joint effort is enhanced by Turquoise Mountain and the Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts, both of which already operate in the Kingdom to develop crafts markets and enable artisans from Saudi Arabia.
Training schools for local staff who will welcome guests to AlUla — their home — moving beyond the "us and them" nature of many tourist destinations to create an immersive cultural experience.
Developing local artisanal crafts as hotel consumables, creating local jobs based around local artisans, skills, and products. Habitas has already made a tradition of welcome bracelets as gifts for its guests in its other resorts, but also sourcing uniforms, furniture, candles all made using local sustainable materials by local artisans.
Showcasing local Saudi artists through collaborations and installations at the Habitas resort.
Localizing food supplies by sourcing from AlUla's farmers and setting up cooking classes led by local chefs.
Establishing community-tourist links through "meet and eat" experiences with residents and farmers, visits to schools, and local staff.
Promoting local conservation efforts by building awareness among guests/tourists of local sustainability and environmental causes.
AlUla's human history began more than 200,000 years ago, yet only recently has modern tourism begun to discover the depth and diversity of its experiences and attractions.
Archaeologists from Saudi Arabia and around the world are rediscovering this cultural landscape as RCU supports the economic diversification, community empowerment and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 program. — SG

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