AlUla in Saudi Arabia looks set to quickly become one of the most talked-of destinations in the Middle East. Its UK Director Claire Golding told us more about what it has to offer your clients:
What and where is AlUla?
Located 620 miles north of Riyadh in northwest Saudi Arabia, AlUla covers an area almost the size of Wales. It’s an area rich in historical, geological and geographical significance, a hidden gem that was once part of the Incense Route.
AlUla is home to not one but four heritage sites – the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra; Dadan, once the capital of the Dadanite and Liyhanite Kingdoms; Jabal Ikmah, known as the ‘open-air library’; and AlUla Old Town.
Spread over 8,700 square miles, it offers over 200,000 years of human history, a lush, green, palm-filled oasis, towering sandstone mountains and monumental rock formations, making it an ideal destination for heritage and cultural buffs, for nature lovers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
How do you get there from the UK?
AlUla is surprisingly accessible, with one-stop flights available from both London and Manchester, operating via Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
From Heathrow there are flights to Riyadh with Saudi Airlines and British Airways, and Saudi Airlines also flies to Jeddah and Dammam. From Manchester, Saudi Airlines has flights to Riyadh.
Connecting flights to AlUla are available from all three Saudi airports on FlyNas and Saudi Arabia Airlines. AlUla airport has recently been designated as an international airport so watch out for news of new services in the future!
What activities, tours, cultural attractions are there?
You really need at least three nights and four days to experience many of the delights AlUla has to offer. Once the luxury Habitas hotel opens at the end of this month, followed by the Banyan Tree in early 2022, guests are likely to want to spend even longer simply relaxing and soaking up the amazing landscapes and peace of the desert.
Key attractions include iconic Hegra, which boasts more than 110 of the best-preserved tombs of the Nabatean era, from as early as 106 BC, Dadan with its Lion Tombs and incredible landscapes and rock formations such as the sandstone Elephant Rock.
There’s also a not-to-be-missed vibrant souk and excellent local cafes and restaurants.
Active guests can immerse themselves in the landscapes on a cycle tour, or join a guided group on one of the many excellent trails such as the the 1,500 metre circular Rock Art Trail, which not only provides stunning views of Hedra but also gives an opportunity to see the rock drawings of several ancient civilisations.
A unique experience is stargazing at Gharameel, 90-minutes north of AlUla Old Town, where the naturally-formed rock pillars and clear star-studded skies make you feel you’re in outer-space.
When is the best time to visit AlUla?
AlUla is open year round but perhaps best between October and April when the climate is more temperate and a great time to experience the outdoor activities. Visiting AlUla during one of the festivals, which generally take place from November to April, is a great way to experience the destination.
Events such as Winter at Tantora, AlUla Skies, AlUla Arts and AlUla’s Wellness Festival offer curated experiences of art, culture, music, nature, wellness, equestrian, gastronomy and astronomy.
For more information, go to experiencealula.com.
Where can you stay?
Guests can choose from luxury desert resorts to camping out in a retro-chic Airstream trailer RV, all of which are close to the main heritage sites.
Recommended accommodation includes the five-star Habitas AlUla Resort and the Banyan Tree AlUla opening early in 2022, plus the four-star Shaden Resort, the three-star Sahary AlUla Resort, and the Ashar and Canyon RV parks for a bit of retro chic!
Coming soon and marking the brand’s first entry into Middle East in 2023/4, Aman will open three distinct luxury properties at Hegra, a tented camp and its family brand Janu.
The Mexican brand AZULIK is also set to open a property in 2024.
Is AlUla featured by any UK tour operators?
AlUla is featured by a number of small, established luxury operators including Wild Frontiers and Windows on the Wild, while several agents such as Trailfinders are putting together their own packages to the region.
Other agent-friendly operators are expected to add AlUla by the end of the year, but agents can also book trips via one of the destination management companies recommended on the trade portal AlulaSpecialist.com.
Which other destinations can be combined to sell it as a multi-centre holiday?
AlUla can be a standalone product and short stay or included in a wider Saudi itinerary. However, as more international flights come on line there will be an opportunity to combine AlUla with other destinations in the Middle East, such as the UAE cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Who should I sell this to?
As you can guess from the standard of accommodation opening up in AlUla, this is a boutique, luxury destination. If your client wants a truly unique and authentic experience and believes in a little paying more for quality and sustainability, then they’ll love AlUla.
Where can agents find out more about AlUla?
Alulaspecialist.com is the official online trade hub where agents can learn more by taking the online course, contact local DMCs and UK tour operators, as well as stay up to date with incentives and events in the UK.
Are you planning any FAM trips for agents to experience AlUla for themselves?
Yes – the first UK agent fam will run in early 2022. To be considered for a place, you’ll need to pass the online training course on Alulaspecialist.com. In addition, there are monthly giveaways. Check out www.alulaspecialist.com for more information.