Prehistoric sites, breathtaking landscapes, and the wondrous elephant rock have catapulted Saudi Arabia's Al Ula governorate into fame. The city is slowly becoming a touristic hotspot and the world is taking notice.
On Wednesday, Paris is set to inaugurate an "immersive and research-driven exhibition showcasing" of the city at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA). Titled "Al Ula: Wonder of Arabia," the exhibition, which is set to run until Jan.19, is the world's first major expo dedicated to the historic Saudi city.
During its run, visitors will get an extraordinary glimpse into the city's multilayered history and the makings of its architecture and natural landscapes. The exhibition will sprawl across two floors of IMA's museum and will be divided into four sections, each showcasing a different aspect of the city.
Al Ula is pretty isolated in the desert of Saudi Arabia's northwestern region. It's home to the kingdom's first UNESCO World Heritage Site — Madain Saleh (Hegra).
According to Arab News, the city is considered an "archaeological marvel — boasting golden sandstone canyons, colossal arches, and rock formations." The city has been home to several ancient civilizations including the Neolithic to the Roman to the Ottoman. Despite the fact that its expansive history runs 7,000 years back, it has only recently risen in popularity.
In recent months, the city has become one of the country's most treasured assets as Saudi Arabia opens its doors to tourists.
In an effort to drive tourists to Al Ula, the kingdom hosted the huge "Winter in Tantora" festival there this year. A host of Arab and international celebs including Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang, and Majida El-Roumi descended on the city and performed concerts as part of the event.
The city is #InstaWorthy
And we can see why
To say the least
Al Ula: Revitalizing Saudi Arabia's tourism sector
By 2023, the city will be home to three luxurious eco-hotels designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel, the visionary behind Abu Dhabi's Louvre museum. The hotels are set to solidify Al Ula's destination as a tourist attraction.
The Saudi city's rise to popularity hasn't been a coincidence. It comes at a time when local officials are working on transforming the country's oil-dependent economy. Part of that involves working hard on generating revenues from the tourism sector — an area that's been undergoing changes in recent years.
Just last week, the kingdom rolled out a new plan allowing visa-free travel for tourists from 49 countries. A key goal under the country's Vision 2030 is to increase the number of tourists who visit the kingdom and revenues generated from the sector to 18 percent in the next 14 years. Under the ambitious blueprint, Saudi Arabia is expected to host up to 1.5 million tourists by 2020.
Plans to boost the tourism sector seem to be working already, with the Chief Executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Gloria Guevara, recently revealing that the field is set to account for 5 percent of the country's GDP by 2021.