AlUla Dates Festival spreads sweetness in ancient Saudi city

The AlUla dates market has recently seen an increase in demand, and the festival facilitates growth for local harvests into the international market by connecting local farmers to international visitors and investors. (AN photo by Abdullah Aljaber)
Short Url
Updated 23 October 2021

AlUla Dates Festival spreads sweetness in ancient Saudi city

  • The festival kicked off with the first date auction of the season early Friday morning

ALULA: The second edition of the AlUla Dates Festival is underway at the Kingdom’s famous ancient city. 

The three-week date festival takes place in the Al-Fusan area directly opposing the famous Elephant Rock, and is split into two segments: The dates auction and the dates souq, both only open during the weekends of Oct.15-Nov. 1. 

Many know AlUla to be a maze of history and breathtaking desert terrain, but not many people know that hidden between the curves of the desert terrains are over 2.3 million palm trees that produce 90,000 tons of dates annually. 

The AlUla dates market has recently seen an increase in demand, and the festival facilitates growth for local harvests into the international market by connecting local farmers to international visitors and investors.

Felix Riess, a strategy consultant visiting AlUla from Germany, said: “It’s a beautiful and historic place, it’s great to see the ambitions for AlUla. It’s currently at the crossroads of something very historical, towards something that keeps the history in mind while building for the future, it’s a great mix.” 

The festival kicked off with the first date auction of the season early Friday morning. As the sun rose, farmers unloaded their harvests off their trucks and onto the auction site. 

Crowds gathered around to take part in the dates auction, that happens three times during the festival. The bids differ from harvest to harvest depending on quality and size of crop. 

Not too long after the first announcement, the bids began rolling in. Chants of numbers and outbuildings were shouted through the air as boxes of dates were shifted around. 

The early dates auction is definitely a great place for buyers and sellers to connect, but it is also an exciting experience for families and tourists to witness. 

“What we saw today was a really authentic experience of how local wholesalers get the dates from this well known place in AlUla. It was very cool and I have never seen anything like this before and we enjoyed it,” Riess told Arab News.

Christian Keller, another German strategy consultant, added: “It’s always nice to see the combination of the old world and the new world and keeping up with it. Culture is about the people coming to AlUla and viewing it and the residents still valuing and carrying on what they have done years before, and now that you bring in new people like the tourist and visitors, they can experience it. Its culture was brought to life.” 

Following the dates auction, in the early hours of the morning, is the souq, which consists of separate booths of local farmers and bakers selling their wares. There are also sections dedicated to investment and international collaboration for information. 

The souq offers many family activities for locals to enjoy including the traditional Saudi Ardah dance to ring in the celebrations, as well as a children’s theater performances. 

These two events only take place once in the evening of the souq, but throughout the shopping experience guests will be able to listen to a live oud player in the center of the souq. 

The festival also serves another purpose alongside sharing culture. His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate, aims to promote the important role agriculture plays in economic development of the region in line with the Vision 2030 goals. 

The event not only highlights the work of the AlUla’s farmers but also promotes and inspires commercial opportunities for farmers and buyers alike. 

Behind the festivities are dozens of hardworking AlUla natives who have spent generations harvesting dates. 

The festival creates a hub for exchanging expertise, and growing collaborations that will in part diversify the economy and create more job opportunities for young people in tourism, hospitality and the cultural sectors. 

AlUla is undiscovered history in its purest form. Visitors have the opportunity to experience the beauty and tradition of the area, from the festival to the desert to the nearby Old Town. 

The Old Town is a treasure trove filled with all things AlUla from historical and handmade crafts to souvenirs to take back to loved ones. 

One of the more infamous stores located in the Old Town is Desert Designs.  

“We have had a very positive response from the international public, we have had a lot of good responses from Japanese, American, Chinese, Europeans. All sorts of people seem to like our store and the items we provide,” Radi Bukhari, Desert Designs general manager, said.

“We take old silver Bedouin pieces, give them a new life and then we frame them for appreciation. We take Saudi culture and try to give it new life and appreciation not just for foreigners but for Saudis as well,” Bukhari said.


Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City. (SPA)
Updated 59 sec ago

Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

  • They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with a number of Mexican officials as he visited the country.
He met his counterpart Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City on Monday.
The pair discussed coordinating efforts to serve the interest of their nations.
They also praised Saudi Arabia and Mexico’s efforts on international security and stopping the spread of weapons that threaten the people across the globe.
Prince Faisal also met Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle.
They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets.
Prince Faisal also had meetings with the President of Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs Sergio M. Alcocer and the President of the Mexican Senate Olga Sánchez Cordero.
Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, on a tour of Latin America, arrived in Brazil on Thursday to meet officials in Brasilia then opened the Kingdom’s new embassy building in the country on Friday.


Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site

Updated 30 November 2021

Saudi Arabia denounces Israeli president’s visit to West Bank holy site

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia denounced the visit of Israel’s president to Ibrahimi mosque in the West Bank, calling the act a flagrant violation of its sanctity.

Saudi Arabia called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the Israeli government and its officials’ continuous practices towards Islamic sanctities, according to a Saudi foreign ministry statement. Saudi Arabia called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the Israeli government and its officials’ continuous practices towards Islamic sanctities.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the site on Sunday to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, sparking scuffles between Israeli security forces and protesters.

Herzog said he was visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque,  in Hebron to celebrate the ancient city’s Jewish past and promote interfaith relations. But his visit to the city, known for its tiny ultranationalist Jewish settler community and difficult living conditions for Palestinians, drew widespread criticism from Palestinians and left-wing Israelis.

— With Reuters


Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

  • The bus carrying 45 passengers collided with a truck
  • Madinah, Makkah and Qassim authorities assisted victims

RIYADH: A collision between a bus and truck left four people dead in Saudi Arabia, authorities reported on Friday.

The bus, which was carrying 45 passengers, collided with a truck on Al-Hijrah highway, in Madinah province.

The crash happened just after the town of Al-Yutamah, around 90km from Madinah city.

Some of those injured were treated at the scene of the crash before being transferred to local hospitals.

The multi-province operation to deal with the incident featured over 20 ambulances and advanced care units from Madinah, supported by eight units from Makkah and another three from Qassim, according to Khaled Al-Sehali, a Saudi Red Crescent Authority spokesperson.

Okaz newspaper said ambulances were called at 11:27pm on Thursday, though authorities did not confirm exactly when the accident occurred.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The busy route, which underwent refurbishment more than two years ago, is one of the main road links between the provinces of Makkah and Madinah.

Pilgrims and other worshipers often use the route to visit the Two Holy Mosques: The Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Photos from the scene show a red Bonluck bus with extensive damage to the right front and side, its windshield torn off.

In 2019, thirty-five pilgrims died on the same highway near the village of Al-Akhal after their bus collided with a loader. Those on the bus were expats in the Kingdom and of Asian and Arab nationalities.

Saudi Arabia had 12,317 traffic deaths in 2019, according to World Health Organization estimates.


Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

  • Egypt, UAE, Maldives and Austria most popular travel destinations for Saudi travelers abroad post pandemic

JEDDAH: Year after year, holidaymakers in Saudi Arabia prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations, and research shows that Saudis are not breaking away from their pre-pandemic patterns anytime soon.

According to new research from Marriott Bonvoy, the travel loyalty program encompassing hotels, resorts, home rentals, and experiences across 30 brands in 138 countries, 12 percent of Saudi travelers have revisited the same country 10 times or more. In contrast, 30 percent returned to the same country five times or more before the onset of the pandemic last March.

International tourism has always been the preferred way of vacationing for many Saudis, with Arab countries leading in many categories.

“I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized,” said 29-year-old Abrar Abulfaraj from Jeddah.

The habitual nature of Saudi travelers shows that even post-pandemic, just 21 percent of those traveling abroad would opt for exploring a new vacation spot. 

Abulfaraj added: “Only due to the pandemic have I become adamant to visit new destinations, (have) new adventures, and appreciate more the luxury of traveling abroad as soon as the coast is clear.”

It is worth noting that the current health measures still being exercised around the world to manage the pandemic also contribute to Saudi travelers’ decisions.

While the following countries have always been staples, many elements come into play when deciding on a trip abroad, including accommodation, cuisine, language, route, currency exchange, and guaranteed weather.

As of 2021, 84 percent expressed their intention to go on a trip in the next 12 months, compared to the 8 percent who plan not to, and the remaining 8 percent are still on the fence.

Post-pandemic statistics show that Egypt will be the No. 1 getaway destination, with 33 percent of travelers intending to visit the country.

I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call it my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized.

Abrar Abulfaraj

Noha Yousef, a private-sector worker in Riyadh, told Arab News that getting back on planes and flying to her favorite destinations has revived the sense of adventure in her.

“My family has been visiting Cairo ever since I can remember and it’s always the first stop to any destination. Whether it was Europe or the US, even Bali once, Cairo is where I head to first and I visit it at least twice a year,” said Yousef.

“We’re creatures of habit and once you find something or somewhere that’s comfortable, you’ll keep going back to it because it’s where you enjoy yourself most of the time when you’re away. Cairo to me has always been a place of adventure, there’s always something new to experience. 

“Whether you’re wandering in the alleyways of the old town or zigzagging in the double-parked side roads in the heart of the city, headed to the newest attraction, there’s always something to do and you can’t beat the Egyptian hospitality.”

The second most popular travel destination for Saudi travelers is the UAE, with 29 percent planning on flying there for a much-needed break.

The language, food and proximity of the UAE to Saudi Arabia make it an ideal vacation choice.

Farther away favorites are the Maldives and Austria, respectively, with 15 and 12 percent of Saudi travelers considering them for their next trip.

While some embark on adventurous trips and immerse themselves in new cultures and experiences, research shows that most Saudis traveling abroad opt for familiar and previously visited holiday destinations.

Neal Jones, chief sales and marketing officer of Marriott International, said: “We know there is pent-up demand for travel and this research demonstrates the impact the pandemic is continuing to have on global travel trends.

“The figures suggest that post-pandemic, Saudi Arabian holiday makers are seeking out tried and trusted destinations where they know exactly what to expect — to be able to make the most out of a long-awaited holiday abroad and to avoid any surprises after 18 months of turmoil and uncertainty.”


Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

RIYADH: Acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz sponsored the signing of an agreement to provide more than 500 jobs to people with disabilities.
The agreement between the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, the Technical and Vocational Training Corp., and the Sa3ee foundation will see the latter provide job training to people with disabilities registered with the ministry.
The training is also intended to improve the recipients’ standing in society, increase their independence, and help achieve the goals of Vision 2030 reform plan.