Skift Take

Saudi Arabia's mountain destination of Leyja promises some of the most ambitious hotels ever made. Amounting to just 120 rooms between three properties, operators Habitas say they can make a global destination of it.

Saudi Arabia has laid out its ambition to build a hotel of such magnitude, allure and luxury, that travelers from the world over will come to see it. In Dubai, the emirate has the two Atlantis resorts, between them almost 2,000 rooms. In the US, historic hotels such as The Plaza sit in New York and mega-resorts fill the Las Vegas strip. But in Saudi a set of three boutique hotels will be the “global bucket list” destination of choice.

Leyja is the latest project from Neom — three hotels of 40 keys each in the mountain area near the Gulf of Aqaba. “Human connection” brand Habitas has been confirmed as the operator, and its founder and CEO has promised he will create something people will flock to.

“Human connection is at the core of our brand and ethos,” said Habitas CEO Oliver Ripley, during a virtual press conference in the metaverse. “We want to send guests on a transformative journey and they are invited to attend a welcome ceremony. Really, the essence is about reconnecting with themselves, their loved ones and with new friends and people. It’s all about human connection.”

The three hotels are called the Wellness Hotel, Oasis Hotel and Adventure Hotel. All three will open by 2028. Neom declined to give a price tag for the project when asked, twice.

With Saudi raising its previous 100 million visitors by 2030 target to 150 million, mega projects such as these are hoped to drive up tourism numbers and spending. 

Ripley added: “It may not have many keys, but it will become a bucket list for people all around the world.”

According to Neom Hotel Development CEO Chris Newman, Habitas was chosen due to its commitment to sustainability and focus on “human connections.”

Newman said: “This is one of the reasons we looked at Habitas. Particularly in luxury travel, people have been looking for more meaning and purpose. Habitas epitomizes that human connection. This is what Neom is trying to do in general, and who better to start than Habitas, who are really one of the pioneers (in) human connection.”

Neom’s CEO for the Gulf of Aqaba, Jeremy Lester added: “This is a holistic destination, it’s not just about the hotels. Our work with Habitas will come together to create a very special conservation program.”

How The Leyja Habitas Is Being Funded

In June of this year, Ripley got a $400 million investment from the kingdom’s Tourism Development Fund to deploy a “circuit” of Habitas properties around Saudi Arabia. This followed the success of Habitas in AlUla, which is seen as one of the country’s most luxurious resorts.

The brand’s future outposts will likely be placed near the Red Sea, Jeddah, and Riyadh, said Ripley in a Bloomberg interview.

The Future of Neom

During the conference, Newman spoke about the ambitions of Neom to one day build its own world-class brands and venues.

He said: “Unlike other projects around the world, (Neom’s) mandate is to push the boundaries and do what has never been done before. We are really digging deep into what each asset should represent.

“We’re not doing some kind of fashion parade, we’re going asset by asset, looking at what each experience should be.”

“We’re looking to develop and deploy our own brands and concepts across Neom in the long term. We’re also looking at some world-class partnerships for our assets. To support this overall ambition, we’re looking to partner with some of the best international brands out there to bring their best-in-class capabilities (to Neom),” Newman said.

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Tags: habitas, hotel news, neom, Saudi Tourism, Tourism news

Photo credit: Leyja is the latest project to come from Neom. Neom Leyja

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