Luxury hotel group Aman Resorts has announced its first venture into Saudi Arabia, suggesting the country will be opening up to tourism, at the same time as local laws for women are beginning to be relaxed. Samuel Ballard reports

The new Aman development, which will incorporate three separate resorts, is due to open in 2023. It will be built in partnership with the Royal Commission for Al Ula, a government body representing the historical north west region.

The properties will include a tented camp, a resort close to the heritage areas of Al Ula and a ranch-style desert property. Beyond that, no further details have been revealed.

Al Ula, which covers about 22,561 sq km, includes sandstone mountains and cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years. The most famous site within Al Ula, is the ancient city of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The partnership was signed by Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture, the governor of the Royal Commission for Al Ula His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Farhan Al Saud, and chairman and CEO of Aman Vladislav Doronin. (The Russian businessman bought Aman in 2014.)

Doronin said: “Many of our existing Aman destinations are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty and rich history. With the addition of spectacular Al Ula, this take us to ten properties situated near or in UNESCO Heritage Sites, making it a fitting location for our first destination in the Middle East.

“Aman is committed to preserving this archaeological wonder with our resorts that will blend into the dramatic surroundings. As part of Aman’s pathfinder spirit, we have a continued mission not only to curate resorts of architectural distinction, but to seek out and introduce our guests to new destinations and experiences.”

His Highness Prince Badr said: “We are proud to be signing this agreement with a luxury operator who shares our vision of responsible development, demonstrating our commitment to delivering an extraordinary visitor experience in Al Ula.”

“The decision by Aman to open its first resorts in the Middle East in Al Ula shows the promise and progress of the vision for Al Ula to become a worldwide destination for those seeking unique experiences. I believe this partnership will be the next step in the development of the yet to be discovered masterpiece that is Al Ula.”

Aman celebrated its 30 th anniversary last year by announcing a slew of new openings, which would boast “architectural distinction” in the luxury space.

Doronin said at the time: “Our strategy continues to place emphasis on seeking out new and outstanding destinations, as well as a continued commitment to curate resorts of architectural distinction by commissioning new and up-and-coming architects.

“The continued integration of Aman Wellness, as well as the introduction of Nama, a new culinary concept which celebrates the tradition of Japanese cuisine, known as washoku, are both natural progressions for our brand and further enrich our guests’ experience, which remains our number one priority.”

Future openings include Aman Kyoto (2019), Aman New York (2020) and Amanvari in Mexico (2020).

Is Saudi Arabia ready for tourists from the West?

As an Islamic country, Saudi Arabia has a reputation for rigid laws, especially when it comes to women’s rights. However, it recently announced it would be relaxing the “guardianship” rule that requires Saudi women to be accompanied by a man when they travel.

Over the last year or so, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has also allowed women to start driving, and they are no longer required to ask for permission to get a job, go to university or get surgery.

These are the first steps towards making Saudi Arabia a more appealing place for outsiders to visit. The country also has plans to build a new “smart” city called Neom, which will be built over the next ten years. Part of the project will include dozens of luxury hotels and resorts across 50 Red Sea islands. By 2030, it wants to attract five million visitors a year.

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