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Hilton will open 59 more hotels in Saudi Arabia in the next 10 years

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RIYADH: The historic city of AlUla has received more than 250,000 visitors in the past 12 months, far exceeding its forecast, a senior government official has said.

The city’s developers had already come a long way, estimating that it had planned to attract one million visitors by 2025.

“The plan is to keep it preserving nature. We don’t want to create a destination and then destroy it by bringing in too many people,” John Northen, executive director – head of hotels and resorts at the Royal Commission for AlUla, or RCU, told Arab News.

“So we’re providing an experience that’s very carefully created and managed for visitors,” Northen said.

One such labor of love is the Banyan Tree Hotel, a sprawling destination with 79 villas slated to open in October this year.

The plan is to keep it preserve nature… We provide an experience that is very carefully created and managed for visitors.

John NorthExecutive Director — Head of Hotels and Resorts at RCU

The hotel is also a worthy neighbor to Maraya Hall, the world’s largest mirrored building and a centerpiece of the city’s growing cultural landscape.

RCU is also developing AlUla Old Town, where it will open the 30-room Boutique Hotel in October.

“It’s going to be completely different; you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time and experienced something very unusual,” he said.

The city has also regenerated its sprawling 2,000 square kilometer Sharaan Nature Reserve, a sanctuary for Arabian leopards.

“Here we are developing two exciting hotels, one designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, which will be designed inside the mountain,” Northen said.

The destination is also home to international gourmet restaurants

“Food and drink is already a big strength for AlUla,” he added.

Most restaurants in town have been seasonal based on tourist traffic. However, RCU will operate them throughout the year starting next year.

Part of the URC’s strategy is to involve the local community and offer training programs.

“The population of AlUla is 42,000 people. We try to hire as many as possible and provide training opportunities,” Northen said, adding that they have already opened a language school and will soon be setting up a hotel management school.