How Saudi Arabia is evolving as a travel destination

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Saudi Arabia is a kingdom on the rise. For anyone with an interest in the Middle East, it’s impossible to ignore all the changes that have taken place in recent months under the leadership of the young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who seems to be overseeing a true transformation in the country.

Amazingly, visitors are now able to apply for tourist visas for the first time, which is opening Saudi Arabia up to international leisure, as well as business travellers. Non-business visits up until now have mostly been confined to religious tourism where the kingdom leads the world for the pilgrimage of millions of Muslims to the sacred city of Makkah every year.

A more accessible kingdom is a key part of Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy and lessen its dependence on oil, while transforming the country into a more culturally open travel destination.

There are plenty of amazing sights for travellers to see in the country, from the natural beauty of the Sarawat Mountains to the vibrant buzz of capital city Riyadh, and the coast of Jeddah, bordered by the Red Sea. If it’s your first time to the kingdom, I would recommend basing yourself in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), a modern development that’s sometimes described as a ‘superhub’ because of how much there is to see and do there - and it is just an hour away from Jeddah, Makkah and Medina.

A dining, shopping and entertainment destination, KAEC has hosted live music from international stars such as Tanni, Michel Fadel and Nelly. Earlier this year, there was even a jazz festival. The Bay La Sun waterfront district is a dream, with beautiful views of the Red Sea, and the lush greenery of Juman Park being a popular spot for families. King Abdullah Economic City is, overall, one of the most tourist-friendly spots in Saudi. Around 400,000 people visited in 2017, more than double the number of visitors in 2016.

All of this will have contributed to Rove Hotels’ decision to build its first ever Saudi Arabia property. The homegrown UAE brand will expand into the kingdom with the opening of the Rove King Abdullah Economic City. Since the city is one of the stops on the soon-to-be-open Haramain high speed rail network, the hotel will also make a great base for those travelling to other parts of Saudi Arabia.

It feels like a good fit. Saudi Arabia is a Kingdom in motion, trying to establish itself as a young, dynamic destination, and that’s exactly what Rove Hotels provides. The homegrown UAE brand is all about exceeding expectations in the hospitality industry by bringing something fresh and new to the table. At the moment, the majority of hotels in Saudi Arabia are high-end, so Rove Hotels fills a gap in the market.

In the UAE, Rove Hotels has redefined the idea of a Dubai hotel stay by giving visitors an alternative to the typical luxury resort, offering affordable comfort and style with its trendy, tech-savvy hotels that feel like a home away from home. Across the five Rove Hotels currently in operation in Dubai, the vibe is fun, quirky and casual, and if Saudi Arabia is looking for some reinvention, then Rove King Abdullah Economic City could be just the breath of fresh air that the kingdom needs.

Even though the new property isn’t due to open until 2019, I can’t wait to book my stay. Having been a ‘Rover’ in the Dubai hotels, I’m excited to see what they bring to Saudi Arabia. I expect that Rove King Abdullah Economic City will have similar amenities, from the stylish, trendy rooms to The Daily cafe, the 24-hour gym and the outdoor swimming pool and sundeck. Plus, Rove Hotels are more than just a midscale accommodation option. They’re also just a cool location for a meet-up, and I’m sure that the new Rove Hotel will create vibrant social spaces not only for visitors, but for young tech-savvy Saudis too - a perfect addition to the fast moving kingdom.

Ali M. is a business writer who specialises in Middle Eastern travel trends

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