Development in Saudia Arabia’s AlUla desert is ramping up for post-pandemic tourism with the arrival of a Banyan Tree tented camp, a first for the kingdom. Olivia Palamountain reports

Saudia Arabia’s ancient AlUla desert is the latest destination to be developed for tourism under the kingdom’s “Vision 2030” programme, chosen for its blend of nature, culture and heritage.

There are some 15 local hospitality projects in the pipeline at present and works are attracting some of the biggest names in the business, including three hotly-anticipated Aman properties, a subterranean resort by French starchitect Jean Nouvel, and now a Banyan Tree luxury tented camp. Habitas is also working on a 3D-printed resort nearby.

Banyan Tree will transform the former Ashar Resort with the addition of 47 new high-end tented suites (28 one-bedroom, 15 two-bedroom and four three-bedroom) and 35 renovated suites on a neighbouring site, bringing the total number of units to 82.

There will also be a spa with a rock pool, two garden pavilions and restaurants. The desert oasis will be located some 15km from the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, and is expected to open at the end of the year.Banyan Tree AlUlaSebastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor, which has a strategic partnership with Banyan Tree, says: “In line with our commitment to grow Accor’s unique portfolio in Saudi Arabia, and as one of the first global hospitality groups to set foot in in the Kingdom, we are extremely proud to take part in the development of the historic county of AlUla, thus celebrating the Kingdom’s vast heritage and culture. We are very excited to be working on bringing our partner brand Banyan Tree’s unique sanctuary offering to the Ashar Resort.”

French architecture studio, AW² is leading the design, using a neutral palette reflective of the desert to ensure that tents blend seamlessly into the tranquil landscape of the Ashar valley.

According to Vogue, each villa will be a peaceful stand-alone haven blending both indoor and outdoor spaces… a scattering of cosy outdoor fire pits will also offer stargazers the perfect place to watch the night sky at one of the very few places in the region with zero light pollution.”Banyan Tree AlUlaSustainability is high on the agenda too – Banyan Tree is renowned for its dedicated approach to protecting both the environment and the growth and development of its local communities so guests can expect initiatives such as the Plastic Free Pledge to be implemented across the resort.

Commenting on the agreements, the CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, Amr AlMadani, says: “This new partnership demonstrates how AlUla’s unique appeal as a cultural, heritage and nature destination fits with Accor’s Banyan Tree brand, which is synonymous with authentically unique  experiences. We’re working with the world’s best developers and hotel operators to deliver projects that complement our cultural oasis, as well as benefitting our local community.”

By 2035, the Royal Commission for AlUla expects the area to host two million visitors annually and create 38,000 new jobs for the community.

What other openings are coming up for Banyan Tree?

May 2021: Indonesia – Angsana Saranam, Bali

The Angsana Saranam, Bali is a 82-room wellbeing resort that will feature an Angsana spa and an organic farm.

July 2021: Indonesia – Banyan Tree Escape

Banyan Tree Escape, the group’s new “brand extension”, will debut in the heart of Ubud, Bali, and will feature a signature “no walls, no doors” concept.

Q3 2021: China – Banyan Tree Nanjing Garden Expo

The Banyan Tree Nanjing Garden Expo – the first Banyan Tree resort in Tangshan of Jiangsu province, China – will open the autumn. The resort is built in a mine valley, hidden by a cascading cliff-top waterfall.

Q4 2021: Qatar – Banyan Tree Doha At La Cigale Mushaireb

At the end of the year, the company will launch its first urban luxury resort in Qatar – the Banyan Tree Doha At La Cigale Mushaireb. It will have a Banyan Tree Spa with a “rainforest hydrotherapy facility” and a 28-storey rooftop bar.

December 2021: Mozambique – Banyan Tree Ilha Caldeira

The Banyan Tree Ilha Caldeira in Mozambique will be situated on the private Island of Ilha Caldeira. The resort will have 40 private pool villas with views of the Indian Ocean.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, says: “Our robust momentum in business development and pipeline of new openings this year will continue to accelerate Banyan Tree Group’s international presence as we chart and connect guests to new awe-inspiring destinations.

“As a global independent hospitality company, we remain positive and resilient. As an evolving multi-branded ecosystem with Wellbeing and Sustainability at our core, we set our eyes on the global front to strategically grow our brands to global reach and range, amidst the extended travel recovery.”

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