Why Yanbu on the Red Sea is fast becoming one of Saudi Arabia’s must-visit destinations

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Besides magnificent annual flower, bird and butterfly shows, the western Saudi town of Yanbu is attracting tourists with its rich biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
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Besides magnificent annual flower, bird and butterfly shows, the western Saudi town of Yanbu is attracting tourists with its rich biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
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Besides magnificent annual flower, bird and butterfly shows, the western Saudi town of Yanbu is attracting tourists with its rich biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
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Besides magnificent annual flower, bird and butterfly shows, the western Saudi town of Yanbu is attracting tourists with its rich biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
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Besides magnificent annual flower, bird and butterfly shows, the western Saudi town of Yanbu is attracting tourists with its rich biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 May 2022

Why Yanbu on the Red Sea is fast becoming one of Saudi Arabia’s must-visit destinations

  • Beyond its scenic charm, favorable climate and natural beauty, Yanbu has a particular appeal for history buffs
  • own’s historic architecture, including a house where T. E. Lawrence once lived, have been faithfully restored

DUBAI: Just a few hours’ drive west of Madinah is the historic port town of Yanbu, the second largest settlement on Saudi Arabia’s western Red Sea coast. With its curious heritage and growing wealth of attractions, this unassuming coastal gem is fast becoming a must-visit destination in its own right.

Visitors to Yanbu can traipse along the town’s historic harbor, enjoy Red Sea-caught fish prepared in the local style, and explore the recently restored Souq Al-Lail, or night market, where they can buy local dates, green mulukhiyah leaves, as well as other sweets and delicacies.

At night, the old harbor area comes alive with locals flocking to outdoor eateries overlooking the tranquil waters, protected from the waves by unspoilt coral reefs that have long lured divers to the coastline.

Yanbu's iconic lighthouse overlooking the town's coastal area by the Red Sea. (Shutterstock)

As one of the oldest ports on the Red Sea, Yanbu has a history reaching back at least 2,500 years, when it served as a crucial staging post on the ancient spice and incense route from Yemen to Egypt and onward to the wider Mediterranean.

Its strategic importance in the world of commerce continues to this day. Further south along the coast from the idyllic old town is an important petroleum shipping terminal that is home to three oil refineries, a plastics factory, and several other petrochemical plants.

While Yanbu has long enjoyed a reputation as a place of commerce, it is now developing into something of a tourism hotspot.

The market in the heritage village of Yanbu Al-Nakhl. (Shutterstock)

“In the past, most tourists were from Saudi Arabia, but now we are getting more foreigners, from France, Germany, and the UK,” Ghazi Al-Enezi, who runs the Riyadh-based operator Ghazi Tours, told Arab News.

“Yanbu has been receiving many visitors via cruises from Jeddah, cities in Egypt and Jordan.”

In 2014, Al-Enezi was named the Best Tour Guide in the Kingdom by the Saudi government. Since then, his fledgling operation has grown into a successful enterprise, with 12 members of staff operating tours across the country and a wealth of local and international clients.

The Kingdom’s growing tourism market has offered a boost to Yanbu’s hospitality industry, with the recent opening of a Novotel, a Holiday Inn, and the Al-Ahlam Tourism Resort. This in turn has drummed up new business for local cafes and restaurants.

Yanbu's nice weather make the coastal town a favorite escape during the summer months. (Shutterstock)

“Many hotels and restaurants are opening now, and local people are also trying to serve visitors their own local dishes,” said Al-Enezi. “The weather is nice as well. It doesn’t get too hot in the summer, which means during the hot months people can escape to Yanbu.”

Beyond its scenic charm, favorable climate and natural beauty, Yanbu also has a particular appeal for history buffs. The British army intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, lived in Yanbu for a time between 1915 and 1916 in a typical Hijazi building.

The British archaeologist, diplomat and writer became famous for his role in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Lawrence was deployed to the region to help the Arabs overthrow their Ottoman rulers, who had sided with Germany against Britain and France.

Lawrence of Arabia, left, and the renovated house in Yanbu where he lived between 1915 and 1916. (Getty Images)

On Dec. 1, 1916, the Ottoman forces of Fakhri Pasha launched a daring offensive against Yanbu with the aim of reestablishing control over the strategically vital port.

After some initial Ottoman successes, the Arabs counterattacked with the support of five British Royal Navy warships anchored off the coast. By Jan. 18, 1917, the Ottomans were in full retreat.

Yanbu served as a supply and operations base for Arab and British forces for the remainder of the war.

Yanbu industrial harbor. (Shutterstock)

In 1975, the Saudi government decided to transform Yanbu into one of the country’s two new industrial centers, the other being Jubail on the Arabian Gulf.

Since then, state and private development projects in Yanbu have boosted its economic value and prestige, attracting huge petrochemical and logistics infrastructure.

Today, as the Kingdom undergoes a fresh transformation, heralded by the Vision 2030 economic and social reform agenda, Yanbu’s fortunes are once again shifting — this time toward tourism, heritage and culture.

In 2020, the Ministry of Tourism launched a project to restore T.E. Lawrence’s Hejazi house, renovating its white stone walls and ornate wooden screens in what would become the first of the ministry’s efforts to revive the old town of Yanbu.

Heritage houses being restored in Yanbu. (Shutterstock)

Soon, other traditional Arabian homes followed, with sensitive restoration work launched to restore their coral-stone walls and wooden latticed windows to their former glory. The rebirth of Yanbu’s authentic architecture has made the city a highly desirable place to visit.

Since then, a host of tour operators have sprung up across Yanbu to cater for this recent influx of visitors.

Al-Enezi, who has run tours in Yanbu since 2008, offers a choice of two main tours — one along the coast that features a visit to Oyster Island, known for its pristine beaches and clear waters, and another into the urban heart of Yanbu that acquaints visitors with local heritage and crafts.

Ghazi Al-Enezi was named the Best Tour Guide in the Kingdom in 2014. (Supplied)

He also takes visitors to Umluj, which is situated 150 km north of Yanbu. Often referred to as the “Maldives of Saudi Arabia,” the coastal town is made up of more than 100 small islands where hotels and other attractions are now under construction.

Also outside the town, thrill-seeking visitors are drawn to Radwa Mount, with its red-hued jagged peaks towering some 2,282 meters above sea level, making it the highest point in the Al-Nakhil range.

Known for its rich biodiversity, including lynx, tigers, ibex and wolves, visitors can enjoy a safari tour along the rugged highland landscape and stop at high-altitude villages to sample the local honey.

Yanbu also boasts of attractive highland landscapes. (Shutterstock)

For Al-Enezi, the tourism industry in Yanbu is unrecognizable today from what passed for it when he began organizing tours there 14 years ago.

“It was hard for the few of us working in the business in the beginning because at that time the Saudi government wasn’t focused on tourism and not many people were coming to visit the Kingdom,” he told Arab News.

“But this is now a growing and changing business.”


Saudi farmer engineers a blooming desert in the desert

Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi farmer engineers a blooming desert in the desert

  • Secret is research and data, says Sofian Al-Bishri, CEO of Mojan Farms
  • Engineer grows basil, Japanese cabbage, lettuce, cherry tomatoes

KHULAIS: The last thing one expects to find in the middle of dusty and dry Khulais, located on the western side of the Saudi Arabian desert, is a farm blooming with all sorts of herbs and vegetables.

Yet this is exactly what Sofian Al-Bishri, the 24-year-old CEO of Mojan Farms, has done. The qualified engineer has proven that combining technical know-how with a little ingenuity can go a long way to fulfil his dream of greening the environment, while also running a sustainable business.

Al-Bishri explained to Arab News that despite the lack of water in the area, he was able to construct a full ecosystem using sustainable farming methods such as bumble-bee pollination, hydroponic saltwater technology, and a fully automated monitoring system.

On a 15,000-square-meter strip of family land, Al-Bishri established Mojan Farms in 2020 with five greenhouses, each containing a different type of herb or vegetable.

Hydroponic technology allows for the cultivation of crops without soil, with roots growing in a liquid nutrient solution or inside moist inert materials like Rockwool and Vermiculite.


Despite the lack of water in the area, Sofian Al-Bishri was able to construct a full ecosystem using sustainable farming methods such as bumble- bee pollination, hydroponic saltwater technology, and a fully automated monitoring system.

The water of the liquid nutrient solution is a mixture of essential plant food, allowing faster crop growth than traditional planting methods.

The farm has various crops, including basil, Japanese cabbage, lettuce and cherry tomatoes. “Every house is a separate ecosystem. We do this to eliminate cross-contamination, so each house is separate and has its designated variety.”

Mojan Farms is environmentally friendly because the system captures and reuses water, rather than allowing it to drain away. “We use drip irrigation, it reduces the water usage by 40 percent, and we work with a company locally that produces biopolymers, which are formed into gels that we have under the ground right now.”

“When talking about wasted water, the problem is when you irrigate the crops, the water just gets drained down. It doesn’t get retained in the soil. So these polymers hold the water which transforms into a gel full of water, allowing enough time for the plant to absorb it, so we get to irrigate much less.”

There is also considerable automation in place, which allows for cooling and irrigation. “We need to believe in research and data, this is our game. I invested in some retrofitted tech from other industries to cut down on labor requirements and time.”

Instead of having an engineer constantly monitor water usage and the spreading of fertilizers, Mojan’s greenhouses are equipped with a sensor system.

“All of these smart devices that we have are automatically connected to the cloud, it all tunes into risk management, so we protect ourselves from any loss of crops.”

Al-Bishri said that he grows crops that are in demand by industry, and is constantly gathering data, sometimes over months, from restaurants, distributors and importers. “So we find those strains that are usually imported, and we find ways to grow them locally.”

Al-Bishri said his farms produce 300 to 400 kilograms of produce ever month. He chooses to grow some Italian strains such as Genovese basil which is different from local ones. In addition, he produces Lola Rossa and Lollo Bionda lettuces, both red Italian types, used mostly to garnish burgers.

He has now decided to go public with his operation. “This farm has been private, it’s just for my father and me, we just come here in winter ... we decided we had enough entertainment here ... and it’s time to share (this project).”

He also plans to plant over 3,000 mango trees as a long-term investment. “Within two years, we’re hoping that it will provide enough shade for us to create artificial lakes and open that for picnics and for the public and families, and to make it an actual park.”

“And the reason we’ve decided to do this now, as opposed to before, is that we’re actually now working with a local startup to provide tech for that strip of land that reduces water by 80 percent, which means we can do it at a more sustainable rate. That’s both good for me and good for the environment.”

First Moroccan pilgrims arrive in Jeddah through Makkah Route Initiative

A Moroccan pilgrim breezes through the immigration line at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, thanks to the Mak
Updated 27 June 2022

First Moroccan pilgrims arrive in Jeddah through Makkah Route Initiative

  • Morocco is the fifth country to participate in the Makkah Route Initiative, after Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh

JEDDAH: King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah received its first Moroccan pilgrims through the Makkah Route Initiative.

They departed from the Makkah Route hall at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca and were greeted by Moroccan Consul General Ibrahim Ajouli, Col. Suleiman Mohammed Al-Yusuf, and representatives from the initiative at KAIA.

The Makkah Route Initiative was launched for the first time this year in Morocco, adding to the four countries already participating in the project: Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

A Moroccan pilgrim gets gets "processed" without hassle at the immigration desk of the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. (SPA)

It aims to simplify procedures for pilgrims by issuing e-visas, completing passport procedures at the airport of the country of departure following the completion of health requirements, and dealing with luggage procedures, transport, and accommodation.

Upon arrival, pilgrims directly move to buses transporting them to their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah while authorities deliver their luggage to their lodgings.

Serving pilgrims is one of the Interior Ministry's programs contributing toward Vision 2030.

The initiative was first launched in 2019 in a few airports and expanded this year, saving pilgrims up to 12 hours upon arrival at Saudi airports.


Makkah Route Initiative

Inaugurated by King Salman in 2019, the Makkah Route Initiative is a program that seeks to provide visitors to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia with the finest possible services to help them perform their Hajj rituals easily and comfortably. Five countries are currently participating in the initiative: Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, and Bangladesh.


Saudi Arabia confers Order of King Abdulaziz on Pakistan’s military chief

Updated 26 June 2022

Saudi Arabia confers Order of King Abdulaziz on Pakistan’s military chief

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa also met to review Saudi-Pakistani military ties and other fields of cooperation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has conferred on Pakistan’s chief of army staff the Order of King Abdulaziz, an order of merit named after the Kingdom's founder, state media said on Sunday.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, implementing King Salman's order, decorated Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa the King Abdulaziz Medal of Excellent Class, "in appreciation of Gen. Bajwa’s distinguished efforts in strengthening and developing Saudi-Pakistani relations," SPA reported.

Bajwa was in the Kingdom on Saturday for a visit. 

The crown prince and the Pakistani military chief also met and "reviewed bilateral relations, especially in the military fields, and opportunities for developing them, in addition to a number of issues of common interest," SPA said.

The occasion was attended by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi deputy minister of defense; Saudi Arabia’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Fayyad Al-Ruwaili; and a number of senior officials from the two sides, said the report.

Lauding social reforms in Saudi Arabia, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio says Rome ready to support kingdom

Updated 26 June 2022

Lauding social reforms in Saudi Arabia, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio says Rome ready to support kingdom

  • The two G20 members are committed to continue working in the ‘same spirit of cooperation and solidarity for strong sustainable and inclusive growth’
  • Di Maio to co-chair 12th session of Saudi-Italian Joint Commission with KSA Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan

ROME: Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio has stressed the importance of consolidating his country’s historic relations with Saudi Arabia ahead of his visit to the Kingdom on Sunday.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, he said both governments were fully aligned and shared common interests and strategic priorities that provided the foundations for an all-encompassing long-term relationship.

While in Riyadh, Di Maio will review several aspects of Saudi-Italian relations and ways to strengthen them, in addition to discussing regional and international issues of mutual concern.

He noted that Italy would be organizing celebratory events later this year to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Italy was one of the first countries to recognize the Kingdom’s status.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (L) meeting with Italian FM Luigi Di Maio in RIyadh. (AFP file photo)

Di Maio said: “Italy was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the early 1930s and 2022 marks a very important anniversary in our longstanding friendship.”

On Monday, he will co-chair the 12th session of the Saudi-Italian Joint Commission with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, and also attend the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum, where institutions and enterprises from both countries will meet to develop further partnerships.

“Back then, Italy and Saudi Arabia decided to start a strategic dialogue, and my visit aims at consolidating our long-lasting relationship by exploring new areas of cooperation and partnership. The 12th session of the joint commission that I will chair on Monday with Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan will specifically focus on this goal.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan. (AFP)

“High-tech Italian companies attending the event could contribute to the Kingdom’s goals of a more diversified economy, especially in the fields of sustainability and energy transition,” he added.

Saudi-Italian relations have been driven toward more political, economic, and cultural development. They have their roots entrenched in sound cooperation, with Italy being one of the Kingdom’s main historical trading partners.

Similar to many nations with long-established Saudi links, Italy has a shared vision aimed at developing and maintaining friendship ties.

Di Maio praised the Saudi leadership for making “significant social developments, especially as far as women empowerment is concerned,” adding that his country was, “ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to implement its reforms further.”

The 35-year-old minister is considered one of the most prominent figures in the Italian political arena.

Last week, he established a parliamentary group called Together for the Future (IpF), a breakaway from the Five Star Movement, the populistic party founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and where Di Maio began his political career. The new group will support the coalition government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Di Maio pointed out that Italy and Saudi Arabia shared “deep historical ties,” and said he was “delighted” to be returning to the Kingdom following his last visit in January 2021, “when I also had the privilege to visit the magnificent AlUla site.”

He noted that Rome’s cooperation with Riyadh had “been growing throughout the years in all areas,” including political, cultural, scientific, and technological collaborations, and sectoral partnerships.

Italian FM Luigi Di Maio (R) receiving Saudi Arabian FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Rome in June 2021. (SPA file photo)

“We look forward to boosting further our cooperation in the fields of infrastructure, new technologies, smart economy, tourism, and green transition,” Di Maio added.

During 2021, bilateral trade between the two nations topped $8.6 billion, a 32.9 percent increase on 2020. Italy is Saudi Arabia’s seventh-largest supplier of goods, and the Kingdom ranks 21 in goods supplied to Italy. Saudi Arabia provides approximately 9 percent of Italy’s oil imports.

The Observatory of Economic Complexity, the world’s leading data visualization tool for international trade statistics, in 2020 showed Saudi exports of $3.18 billion to Italy, with the top products being crude oil worth $1.7 billion, refined oil at $931 million, and $97.9 million of ethylene polymers.

Over the last 25 years, Italian exports to Saudi Arabia have increased at an annualized rate of 3.31 percent, from $1.67 billion in 1995 to $3.77 billion in 2020.

Oil and gas supplies will be on the agenda during official meetings in the Kingdom as Italy, along with Germany, approved the opening of Russian ruble accounts earlier in May for companies to be able to continue buying Russian oil and gas without violating the letter of sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia.

Di Maio said: “There is always room for improvement though. We count on strengthening our cooperation in the oil as well as in the natural gas sectors.”

Italy agreed with its EU partners to cut Russian crude imports by 2023 — in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — a move that Draghi called “a complete success.”

The Italian foreign minister added: “(Saudi Arabia is a) key partner for regional stability in the Middle East and the Gulf for Italy. Therefore, we deeply value our dialogue on the main regional files.

“We firmly believe that the broader Mediterranean is a region of opportunities, where fruitful synergies among people and economies can be established. We share this commitment with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we stand ready to work together toward those common goals.”

As members of the G20, Saudi Arabia handed over the honorary gavel as a token of the G20 Presidency’s transition to Italy, which held the 2021 G20 presidency. And as fellow members of the G20 Troika, Di Maio highlighted the role of both nations’ commitment to continue working in the same spirit of cooperation and solidarity for strong sustainable and inclusive growth and help, “devise a coordinated response to global challenges.”

On the issue of cooperation, he said: “My participation these days in the joint commission and business forum proves once more our commitment to celebrating this anniversary by strengthening our cooperation in traditional and new sectors.

“Much remains to be achieved, but Italy is ready to provide all the support the Kingdom needs to further implement its reforms. In that spirit, I am confident that the Saudi-Italian Investment Business Forum that I will co-chair on June 27 will turn out as a success and will be a trigger to foster new industrial and trade partnerships.”

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, art, NFTs and music

Updated 25 June 2022

SRMG concludes Cannes Lions outing with talks on digital well-being, art, NFTs and music

  • Importance of digital wellness was a hot topic of discussion at SRMG Experience at Cannes Lions Festival
  • The festival concluded with leading global media players reflecting on innovations in the media industry

CANNES: The Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) concluded its participation in the Cannes Lions Festival for International Creativity on Thursday with an impressive night of art and music and panels on digital well-being and connectivity. 

SRMG partnered with the region’s leading music platform, Anghami, to organize a special night called ‘MENA Night’ which was attended by many talents, creators, media experts and award winners of the Festival.

“Celebrating the creative talents who represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival is a unique opportunity to showcase their incredible talent and innovation to the world,” said Jomana Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG. 

“At SRMG, we are delighted to host the talents that represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival, and as one of the most respected and largest media groups in the Middle East, we always, and will continue to, embrace the best and brightest talent from the region and the world.”

Various rising stars from the Middle East attended the event, including Bird Pearson, Lush and Samee’ Lamee’ from Saudi music entertainment company ‘Middle Beast.’

Guests also had an exclusive look at NFT artworks from regional artists and creators including Faisal Al-Khuraiji, Alaa Balkhi, Amr Boughari and Rex Chouk. 

The show was organized by Nuqta, the first collaborative, mobile and web app, which invites the public to post images of Arabic calligraphy and typography as they experience it anywhere.

The media powerhouse hosted a series of interactive panel discussions and a virtual experience in a dedicated pavilion at the festival throughout the week.

Al-Rashid outlined SRMG’s digital transformation strategy and its vision to upgrade from one of the largest and most influential media groups in the MENA region into an integrated global media giant.

In one panel moderated by Haifa Al-Jedea, managing director of SRMG Think, the media group hosted Larissa May, founder and executive director of #HalfTheStory, in conversation with Abdullah Al-Rashid, founder of Sync Summit and director at Ithra.

The panel discussed the importance of raising awareness of the negative impacts of 24/7 connectivity on our health and well-being.

The panelists called on digital platforms to prioritize the digital well-being of young people by incorporating ethical design principles.

May said that the role of #HalfTheStory is to empower the next generation of consumers to “thrive online and in life,” and to set boundaries for their digital use.

“We often don’t step back and notice how our devices have infiltrated our lives — especially those of us who work in the media industry,” she added.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Al-Rashid said that Saudis are among the world’s top users of YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter in some metrics. He asked guests: “The majority of our population are connected all the time and have only ever experienced that way of life. What does that mean for them?”

In another panel, Riad Hamade, director of business news at Asharq Business with Bloomberg, a subsidiary of SRMG, was joined by Rebecca Bezzina, SVP and managing director at R/GA London; Per Pedersen, founder and global creative chairman of by The Network; and Laurent Thevenet, head of creative technology at Publicis Groupe APAC and MEA.

The panel explored how technology is creating new ways to tell stories and disrupt the communications industry.

SRMG, one of the largest media and publishing groups in the Middle East, owns more than 30 major media outlets in the region, including Arab News, Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News and Sayidaty.