How heritage sites will make Saudi Arabia a magnet for cultural tourists

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AlUla, Saudi Arabia's leading heritage site, is a living museum that is home to ancient civilizations and archaeological wonders dating back 200,000 years. (Shutterstock)
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AlUla, Saudi Arabia's leading heritage site, is a living museum that is home to ancient civilizations and archaeological wonders dating back 200,000 years. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 September 2022

How heritage sites will make Saudi Arabia a magnet for cultural tourists

  • Each of the six World Heritage sites shows that Saudi roots run far deeper than many might have imagined
  • Carefully preserved and protected, Diriyah is the jewel in the crown of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest giga-projects

LONDON: Even as Saudi Arabia writes the next chapter in its story, defined by the ambition of its Vision 2030 blueprint for the future, it is rediscovering and embracing a past destined to play a central role as it opens up to the outside world.

Since 2008, Saudi Arabia has had no fewer major six sites of “outstanding universal value” inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

There are 10 more on its Tentative List — properties being considered for nomination — including the Hejaz railway, three historic pilgrimage routes and the Al-Faw archaeological area at the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter, a site of human occupation from prehistoric nomadic times to the growth of a thriving ancient caravan city in the second half of the first millennium B.C.

Certainly, there is no shortage of locations from which to choose for future nominations; there are more than 10,000 historical sites on Saudi Arabia’s National Antiquities Register. 




Diriyah served as the capital of the Emirate of Diriyah under the first Saudi dynasty from 1727 to 1818. (Supplied)

Each of the six World Heritage sites is one piece of a fascinating mosaic that shows not only that Saudi roots run far deeper than many might have imagined, but also that Saudi heritage is a vital component in the broad sweep of human history.

And this is living history. Each site will play — and in some cases is already playing — a crucial role in the opening up of the Kingdom as a destination for cultural tourists from around the world.

One of the most breathtaking of the UNESCO properties is the Hegra archaeological site, centerpiece of plans by the Royal Commission for AlUla to develop sensitively as a major destination more than 22,000 square kilometers of the spectacular landscape of the AlUla region, with its lush oasis valley and towering mountains. 

The jewel in AlUla’s crown is the ancient city of Hegra, the southern capital of the Nabataeans, who also built Petra in modern-day Jordan.




AlUla, Saudi Arabia's leading heritage site, is a living museum that is home to ancient civilizations and archaeological wonders dating back 200,000 years. (Supplied)

Yet the astonishing collection of over 100 hand-carved tombs, many with elaborate facades and inscriptions, cut into sandstone outcrops, is merely the tip of an archaeological iceberg.

There are currently a dozen international archaeology teams exploring the past cultures of AlUla and the nearby Harrat Khaybar volcanic field, from prehistory to the early 20th century. The astonishing volume of the finds they have already documented is prompting a radical rethinking of the prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula.

One team, from the University of Western Australia, has spent the past four years identifying and cataloging all the visible archaeology of AlUla county and the nearby Harrat Khaybar volcanic field. The tens of thousands of structures found, most between 4,000 and 7,000 years old, tell a story of a landscape and a climate that was once lush and temperate. 

In all, the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia project has identified 13,000 sites in AlUla and an extraordinary 130,000 in Khaybar county, dating from the Stone Age to the 20th century, with the vast majority from prehistory.

A “core” 3,300 square meter area of AlUla was surveyed separately by UK-based Oxford Archaeology which, working with staff and students of King Saud University in Riyadh, identified in excess of another 16,000 archaeological sites.




A panoramic view of the Dadan District, site of the ancient city of Dadan, a predecessor to Hegra.  (Supplied)

Dr. Hugh Thomas, a senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia, said that in the past archaeologists had concentrated on the Fertile Crescent. “But as we do more and more research, we’re realizing that there was so much more here than small, independent communities living on nothing much and not doing much in an arid area,” he told Arab News. 

“The reality in that in the Neolithic period, these areas were significantly greener, and there would have been really sizeable populations of people and herds of animals moving across these landscapes.”

Among the most intriguing finds cataloged by the AAKSA team are the mysterious mustatils — often huge, rectangular structures, built by an unknown prehistoric people over 8,000 years ago. Possibly unique to the Arabian Peninsula, they are thought to have had some kind of ritualistic purpose.

More than 1,600 are now known to exist across 300,000 square kilometers of northwestern Saudi Arabia, concentrated mainly in the vicinity of AlUla and Khaybar.

More evidence of Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric past can be found in the world’s largest and most impressive collections of Neolithic rock carvings, or petroglyphs, located at two sites 300 kilometers apart in the Hail province, together adopted by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2015. 




Camel and oryx images depicted on the vertical surface of Jabal Umm Sinman, in association with several Thamudic inscriptions, are found in Hail region in northern Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

The first is at Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop to the west of the modern town of Jubbah, the origin of which dates back to the dawn of Arab civilization, when the surrounding hills once overlooked a lake, lost beneath the sands of the Nefud desert some 6,000 years ago.

It was on the hills of Umm Sinman, in the words of the UNESCO nomination document, that the ancestors of today’s Saudis “left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives of their beliefs about life and death, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.”

The second site is at Jabal Al-Manjor and Jabal Raat, 220 kilometers southwest of Jubbah, near the village of Shuwaymis. 




The Cultural Rock Arts in Hima Najran consists of rock art images made over millennia ago by armies and travelers who passed this way along an ancient desert caravan route in the southwest of the country. (Supplied)

Together, the twin sites tell the story of over 9,000 years of human history, from the earliest pictorial records of hunting to the development of writing, religion and the domestication of animals including cattle, horses and camels.

The rock art in the Hail region is regarded as one of the world’s most significant collections, “visually stunning expressions of the human creative genius by world standards, comparable to the messages left by doomed civilizations in Mesoamerica or on Easter Island…of highest outstanding universal value.”




The Cultural Rock Arts in Hima Najran consists of rock art images made over millennia ago by armies and travelers who passed this way along an ancient desert caravan route in the southwest of the country. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s other UNESCO sites include the most recently inscribed, the Hima Cultural Area, listed in 2021. It also consists of a substantial collection of rock art images made over 7,000 years ago by armies and travelers who passed this way along an ancient desert caravan route in the southwest of the country.

Historic Jeddah, inscribed by UNESCO in 2014, was established in the seventh century as the major port on the Red Sea and grew rapidly as the gateway for pilgrims to Makkah who arrived by sea. Jeddah, which developed into “a thriving multicultural centre” was “characterized by a distinctive architectural tradition, including tower houses built in the late 19th century by the city’s mercantile elites,” many of which can still be seen today. 




Jeddah's old village of Al Balad, one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in the Kingdom, is host to plenty of old buildings. (Shutterstock photo)

Al-Ahsa, a “serial cultural landscape” in the Eastern Province, is home to the world’s largest, and almost certainly oldest, oasis, a sprawling collection of 12 separate elements and 2.5 million palm trees scattered over a total area of 85 square kilometers.

Listed by UNESCO in 2018 as “an evolving cultural landscape,” Al-Ahsa “preserves material traces representative of all the stages of the oasis history, since its origins in the Neolithic to the present.”

Al-Ahsa, which lies between the rock desert of Al-Ghawar to the west and the sand dunes of the Al-Jafurah desert to the east, is associated with the Dilmun civilization that flourished in the third millennium B.C. in what is now eastern Saudi Arabia. Pottery finds from the Ubaid period, dating back roughly 7,000 years, also suggest the Al-Ahsa region may have been among the first in eastern Arabia to have been settled by humans.




Al-Ahsa governorate in the Eastern Province boasts of the largest date-palm oasis in the world. (Supplied)

Pride of place, in the hearts of Saudis at least, must go to the Turaif district of Diriyah, which is considered the birthplace of the Kingdom and was listed by UNESCO in 2010. 

Nestling in a bend of the Wadi Hanifah, a few kilometers northwest of the modern metropolis of Riyadh, are the preserved remains of a breathtaking collection of mud-brick palaces, houses and mosques, “the pre-eminent example of Najdi architectural style, a significant constructive tradition that developed in central Arabia…and [contributed] to the world’s cultural diversity.”

First settled by the ancestors of the House of Saud in the 15th century, the oasis of Diriyah became the capital of the First Saudi State, established in 1744.

Diriyah was destroyed in 1818 after a six-year campaign by a vengeful Ottoman Empire, alarmed by the challenge posed by the First Saudi State to its grip on Arabia and the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Ultimately, it was Al-Saud that would prevail, as history relates. In 1902, Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, better known to the wider world as Ibn Saud, famously recaptured Riyadh, going on to unite the kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz in 1932 as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 




Diriyah, where the first Saudi state was founded 300 years ago, is being developed as an iconic tourist destination. (Supplied)

The Turaif district of nearby Diriyah, left in ruins by the Ottomans, would never be occupied again. Carefully preserved and protected, however, it is now the jewel in the crown of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest giga-projects — the development of the wider area by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority as “one of the most amazing cultural gathering places in the world.”

The $50 billion plan to transform Diriyah into a global historical, cultural and lifestyle destination will create 55,000 job opportunities and attract 27 million visitors every year. They will be able to immerse themselves in the history and culture of a kingdom that, in less than 300 years, has grown from an idea born in a small desert community to become one of the world’s most influential nations.

Awaiting visitors on the site of 7 square kilometers will be museums, galleries, world-class hotels, restaurants, shops, homes and educational and cultural facilities, all created in the traditional Najdi architectural style.

But at its heart will be Turaif, which, like so many of Saudi Arabia’s historic sites, is a priceless piece of the past now helping to shape the Kingdom’s future.


Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

  • The RUSH festival allows video-game aficionados to experience latest technology
  • Over five days, gamers will be provided best-known games, real-life experiences

RIYADH: The RUSH festival, the largest event for virtual sports and games, opened at the Riyadh Front on Saturday as part of the Riyadh Season of activities.

Over five days, it will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences.

They will get the chance to play real games such as “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” and “Valorant.” The event will also bring together the best international teams so that the biggest tournaments and direct qualifiers can be held on the e-sports stage.

Representatives of the 25 E-Sport organization greeted fans at the event’s meet-and-greet booth.

Aoun, the organization’s director of operations, told Arab News: “We have content makers and professional players in all games, and we came to meet the audience here.”

The festival aims to provide fun video games, competitions, and challenges through direct tournaments with prizes, and includes live entertainment shows, DJ performances, an augmented reality experience, and a cosplay competition.

The Valar Club booth was promoting e-sports for women.

Malak Al-Qahtani, founder of Valar Club, told Arab News: “Valar Club is the first licensed women’s club from the federation’s electronic sports, and our goal is to help female Saudi players, as they aspire to the world, and help with their training.”

Saudi YouTuber Pika Loli travelled from Jeddah to attend the event.

“This event brings together most of the YouTubers and gamers, and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other, and it will increase our followers and grow the channel on YouTube.”

Some of the cosplayers were dressed as video game characters.

Abdulelah Al-Qahtani said: “Today we are dressed as characters from the ‘Genshin Impact’ game, and I think this is so good that Saudi Arabia brought up a hidden community, like cosplayers and gamers.”

With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and e-sports, the RUSH festival aims to give gaming aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.

Tickets for the event are available via https://riyadhseason.sa/event-details-en.html?id=599/en_RUSH.


Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

  • Investment opportunities are many thanks to similar development priorities, Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani tells Arab News
  • He says the crown prince’s recent visit will contribute to accelerated steps for enhancement of bilateral and trade relations

BANGKOK: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bangkok last week has opened not only a new chapter in Saudi-Thai ties but also new horizons in which officials and the people see a promising future for both kingdoms.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were officially restored in January this year, during Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh, when the two countries agreed to appoint ambassadors for the first time in over three decades.

The crown prince arrived in Bangkok as a guest of honor at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit hosted by Thailand on Nov. 18-19 and became the first Saudi official to make such a trip.

“It was the first visit at the level of the Kingdom’s leadership since the establishment of relations between the two countries in 1957,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country. (SPA)

“It will move the relations of the two countries to broader horizons and a prosperous and promising future.

“It will also contribute to accelerating steps that will enhance bilateral, economic and trade relations between the two countries by exploring potential investment opportunities in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the development priorities of Thailand.”

The crown prince’s meetings with the Thai leadership have yielded numerous memorandums on energy, investment, tourism, anticorruption efforts and the normalization of diplomatic relations.

When the crown prince arrived in Bangkok, he was officially received by the country’s top leadership and royal family and unofficially by many others, especially from the younger generation, who took to social media to welcome him and set up online fan clubs.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News. (Supplied)

Photos and videos from the visit went viral and made the rounds with captions such as “Warm welcome, Prince,” “This is what people in the country (Thailand) want,” “Happy: Thai-Saudi relations are very close after 32 years,” “Long live MBS.”

“The relations now seem to be on the right track and will grow stronger and more comprehensive in the coming period,” Al-Suhaibani told Arab News.

“The Saudi embassy will focus on implementing and following up on the agreements and memoranda of understanding that were signed during this historic visit.”

Tanee Sangrat, director-general of information at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and soon-to-be Thailand’s ambassador to the US, told Arab News that the visit was “closely watched and followed by the Thai people in Thailand and around the world.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh in January. (Shutterstock)

He said: “We look to Saudi Arabia as a country that has great potential. The crown prince and prime minister is very widely well respected by our people.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”

With the restoration of ties with Saudi Arabia, Thailand has found not only a new powerful partner in navigating volatile energy markets and energy transition, but also, as many have said, a “gateway” to the Middle East, where Thailand’s presence is not very strong.

 

 

The restored relationship would give not only Thai exporters but also investors more access to opportunities in the Gulf and beyond.

“This is a big, big issue for Thailand. Saudi Arabia is a critical partner in the Middle East,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, told Arab News.

“That is a gateway for Thailand to re-engage and re-enter Middle East markets. Without the Saudi Arabia relationship, a lot of doors were closed. Now, more doors will be opened.”

Suppalerk Aramkitphotha, a business development professional, saw the crown prince’s visit as a “great opportunity.”

“We are very glad that we have this opportunity,” he said, citing the business prospects between Thailand and the Middle East that would now be facilitated.

Jirayut Srupsrisopa, the founder of the first Thai fintech startup to notch up a valuation of more than $1 billion, said he was glad that the Saudi crown prince visited Thailand and new bridges were built.

“Now we can do so much more between Thailand and Saudi Arabia. We can work with Saudis for the future of energy, the future of green hydrogen or future growth in other aspects like the digital economy,” he told Arab News, adding that there would also be opportunities such as medical tourism.

Thailand, where healthcare services are well developed, already has agreements with countries such as Kuwait and Qatar for receiving patients. A deal with Saudi Arabia is likely to be a part of the two countries’ relations going forward.

“We are famous for medical tourism,” Jirayut said. “Everyone can come here, have a nice holiday, nice beach, nice mountains, nice hotels, nice services. And they can get their teeth done. They can recover. They can have a health checkup here at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.”

But there is much more to the renewed ties than business opportunities.

Referring to the potential role that culture can play in cementing the re-established Saudi-Thai relationship, Ambassador Al-Suhaibani said: “There are many similarities between the two countries, particularly in hospitality, generosity, friendliness and, most importantly the richness of culture.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Thai Prime Minister witness the exchange of several MoU between Saudi Arabia and Thailand. (Supplied)

“This will encourage us to strengthen relationships and communication between our people, as well as to promote constructive dialogue in many aspects of social, cultural and religious (life).”

This kind of exchange is what Thais have waited for a long time.

Voralak Tulaphorn, a marketing professional, said a Saudi presence is something that was missing from the multicultural landscape of Thailand for a long time.

“Saudi Arabia and (Thailand) actually have rich cultures, and with rich cultures it would be nice to have exchanges in everything from food and nature to fashion and handicrafts.”

For her, what holds the greatest promise as a means of bringing Thais and Saudis together is an appreciation of each other’s cuisines. Food is a good way to win hearts and spread cultural influence.

“I think people love Thai street food,” Voralak told Arab News, adding that she hoped that soon Saudi restaurants would start emerging in Bangkok. “We would love to taste Saudi Arabian food too.”

 


History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Kingdoms Festival wraps up in Saudi Arabia

Updated 27 November 2022

History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Kingdoms Festival wraps up in Saudi Arabia

  • The festival focused entirely on sites at crossroads of culture, centers of influence and wealth
  • By focusing on a range of events, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life

KHAYBAR: Past, present and future came together as the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival drew to a close with a series of dramatic events showcasing three historic oases of the northwest — AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma — for a modern audience.

The festival, launched on Nov. 11, was the first of its kind to focus entirely on the sites, which were at the crossroads of culture in ancient times, and also centers of influence and wealth.

By focusing on a range of events, including cultural performances, workshops and sightseeing opportunities, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life, with many of the activities expected to continue after the festival’s close.

A spectacular show lit up the night sky as 1,450 drones formed shapes while an orchestra played music by UK composer Matt Faddy. The show will continue until Dec. 15, 2023.

Visitors to Khaybar can still explore the mysterious prehistoric stone structures on foot, or by car or a 20-minute helicopter excursion, hovering over the old and new.

“We made this festival to reflect the stories behind all the ancient civilizations that lived around or in these three places,” Abdulrazzag Alanzi, a local storyteller and tour guide, told Arab News.

Alanzi used to visit his cousins in Khaybar as a child and still recalls hearing stories about the region going back centuries.

“I used to love reading a lot of fictional stories and also a lot of old stories, and when I heard about something that happened in this area many years ago, it always fascinated me. This is what pushed me into this line of work, tourism,” he said.

“AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma have a lot of historical stories and a lot of information that we need to show the world.”

Fahad Aljuhani, a storyteller who describes the area as the “greatest living museum,” also came to the area as a child to connect with his cousins — and to discover hidden treasures.

“I’m a ‘Rawi’ and ‘Rawi’ in English means a storyteller. Now we are on an island that floats on a sea of rock which is Khaybar. I used to come to Khaybar and visit my relatives, and they would tell us a story about the tombs and the oasis, and I didn’t have the chance to visit them until now,” he told Arab News.

 

 

Aljuhani said that 5 million years ago, hundreds of volcanic eruptions occurred simultaneously in the area.

“If you feel the rocks, they seem to generate heat from within, similar to those who choose to watch over the land today and tell its many-layered stories,” he said.

Tour guide Enass Al-Sherrif told Arab News that she is excited to see people, including those from around the Kingdom, taking the time to learn about their past.

Al-Sherrif describes her job as the best she could ever have.

“I am really proud and honored. And I want to show you and make you feel the experience, how we transformed this place into an amazing destination for others to come and visit us,” she said.

The festival and its extended program aims to shed light on the legends and legacies of ancient times in the Kingdom’s northwest region, allowing visitors to explore and learn about the “largest living museum in the world.”

It is two years since AlUla began reopening heritage sites to domestic and international tourists with its pioneering Winter at Tantora program, which lasts until March.

While the Ancient Kingdoms Festival wrapped up on a chilly day on Nov. 27, many of the visitor experiences will continue well beyond the festival period, with some available year-round.

“The northwest Arabian Peninsula is the jewel in the heritage crown of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a source of fascination for a global community of archaeologists and researchers. Their discoveries shed new light on the societies that endowed the region with such relics of the ancients, preserved in wonders of prehistoric geology, art, and historical architecture that reveal important truths,” the Royal Commission for AlUla, which hosted the event, said in a statement.

The commission plans to host the Ancient Kingdoms Festival annually. Further details are available on its website.


Jeddah receives 179mm of rainfall, higher figure than 2009 peak

Updated 25 November 2022

Jeddah receives 179mm of rainfall, higher figure than 2009 peak

  • Maximum alert issued in face of weather conditions

JEDDAH: The National Center of Meteorology recorded 179 mm of rainfall on Thursday, the highest amount ever received in the city.

Rain fell from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the south of the province in a heavier downpour than the previous biggest, in 2009.

The Jeddah Municipality announced a maximum alert in the wake of the weather conditions, while the meteorology center warned of moderate to heavy rain in the governorates of Jeddah and Rabigh in the Makkah region, including Thuwal and coastal areas, accompanied by surface winds, hail and flooding, until 7 p.m. on Thursday.

King Abdulaziz Airport announced that some flights had been delayed due to the weather. The airport was hoping to communicate with air carriers to confirm dates and times for rearranged flights.

Makkah Municipality employs 11,800 field workers to prepare for the rainy season. It has machinery and equipment to deal with the expected conditions. Its operation and maintenance department assesses the performance of rainwater drainage network channels in main and side roads, intersections and squares.

It removes sediment which can impede water flow in drainage systems, in accordance with contingency plans.

Task forces and equipment have been deployed throughout Makkah, with some 52 water tanks, each with a capacity of 194,000 gallons, removing floodwaters. Some 146 excavating machines and 89 multipurpose trucks have been dealing with the impact of the rain and removing water from the roads and streets.

The municipality has also organized field teams to remove waste that may have built up in the wake of the downpours.

It has also increased the number of cleaning teams to work on clearing sewers to prevent any dangers that may pose a threat to residents and visitors.

The teams have been deployed along with 520 machines, including lorries, pump tanks, Bobcats, tankers and automated sweepers, as well as a large number of pumps and excavating machines. Work is being carried out around the clock to implement contingency plans.

Makkah contains huge rainwater drainage systems that reach around 540 km and cover all of the region’s neighborhoods and holy sites. The systems include closed trunk water mains and deep tunnel networks, as well as shallow and open drainage channels.

The municipality also carries out maintenance and cleaning operations throughout the year to help reduce the effects of flooding on the region.

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Spanish passions of food and football combine at Riyadh festival

Updated 26 November 2022

Spanish passions of food and football combine at Riyadh festival

  • LaLiga and Spanish gastronomes host feast of Iberian culture at Ritz Carlton

RIYADH: Food and football were flavors of the week in Riyadh as Spanish cuisine experts and LaLiga officials came together to host a feast of Iberian culture.

The Spanish Pantry festival, organized by LaLiga and food experts Provacuno, was held over three days this week in the capital’s Ritz Carlton. 

Mohamad Essa, LaLiga’s delegate in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that the festival combined two of Spain’s biggest passions, with football activities and displays from a Michelin star chef Rafael Centeno.

Essa said that Saudi Arabia had a passionate fan base for LaLiga football. “It’s my honor to be close to the local fans and to listen to their observations and understand their needs. We would like to achieve many things together. 

“We are here to promote strong relations with local institutions, clubs and media,” he said, adding that his presence helps LaLiga giants such as Real Madrid and Barcelona connect with Saudi fans, clubs and sponsors.

He added that his organization planned many activities for the Kingdom, including parties for Saudi fans to travel and watch LaLiga matches.

The league already helps develop skills in the sports industry with its LaLiga business school, and it has football academies aimed at developing youth talent.

“We want to export these capabilities to the country to create the new generation of footballers,” Essa said.

“As part of this international expansion, we are engaging in the market by hosting events, activities, different sports projects and academic opportunities.”

Ohoud M. Aljabr, of the Ritz-Carlton group, said: “Our main goal of this successful partnership is to introduce the beautiful and rich culture of Spain and present a memorable experience. Hosting the Spanish Festival for the first time in the Kingdom was a pleasure.” 

Provacuno is a promotion organization for Spanish beef and veal, and represents 140,000 farms and processing plants.

Spain produces more than 800,000 tonnes per year of meat to EU standards. Saudi Arabia meanwhile is a growing market for beef, with consumption rates increasing and outstripping local supply. “Spanish beef has been a supplier since 2016. Export figures have been rising in recent years, reaching 350 tonnes a year,” Provacuno said. “Most of our exports to Saudi Arabia are high-quality cuts that meet Saudi demands.”