Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Saudi Arabia Government Launches a “Farming Tourism” Business

2 months ago

Saudi Arabia is truly leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit to become a tourism superpower. The kingdom’s latest move is to create the “Dan Company”, an organization under the sovereign wealth fund designed to promote and develop agritourism and eco-tourism.

Dan’s first project will be located in the Al Ahsa region and will cover 1.8 million square meters. It will feature an eco-resort, an agri-resort and an adventure resort, according to the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The company is also expected to contribute approximately $1.6 billion (SAR 6 billion) to Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP by 2030, betting on intrepid travelers getting involved in “traditional farming experiences” in the Gulf state.

PIF’s co-head of local real estate development Khalid Johar said: “[Dan] will boost economic development and contribute to national economic growth. The company will operate novel business models that integrate sustainability and embrace nature, involving the private sector and local farmers in agritourism and ecotourism.”

The PIF is chaired by Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, and has around $700 billion in assets. As one of the world’s largest such wealth funds, PIF can finance many of the country’s ambitious tourism developments, including ski retreats, mega-yacht hubs, archipelagos and entire cities dedicated to entertainment.


Neom’s Giga-project Gulf of Aqaba: A Collection of Space-age Destinations

2 months ago

Saudi Arabia’s Belgium-sized city of Neom has unveiled another giga-project. It’s called the Gulf of Aqaba and will contain many of the futuristic hotels the $500 billion project has announced in recent months.

The Gulf of Aqaba project will be along the coast with the same name, at the northern tip of the Red Sea. It will house upmarket boutique hotels like the Epicon project, Siranna and Leyja. Neom also announced an ambitious events and entertainment space called Utamo, promising to fly in celebrities.

Tucked into in a mountain located along the Gulf of Aqaba coastline, Utamo will be used for music events, exhibitions, and art activations. It will also have a string of high-end restaurants dotted around.

The Gulf of Aqaba Grand Plan

In November, Skift reported that Neom had trademarked a dozen terms under the “hotel services” category, suggesting a big push into hospitality by the Saudi giga-project. These trademarks included Epicon and Leyja, as well as Siranna and Utamo.

You can see all the other trademarks here.

Saudi’s Leyja project comprises three hotels with 40 keys each in the mountain area near the Gulf of Aqaba. Habitas has been confirmed as the operator, and its founder and CEO has promised he will create something people will flock to.

Leyja Saudi Arabia NEOM unveiled
A rendering of the three Leyja hotels. Supplied.

“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 plan for Epicon comprises a select few hotels and restaurants, including two towers – one standing at 225 meters and the other soaring to 275 meters. These towers will host an “ultra-premium” 41-key hotel and 14 suites and apartments constituting luxury residences. Near the hotel, the Epicon resort offers 120 rooms and 45 residential beach villas. Neom has not disclosed the opening date or development cost. In addition to the accommodations, Epicon will encompass beach clubs, lounges, restaurants, and boutique shops.

A rendering of Epicon.
A rendering of Epicon. Supplied.

Celebrities at Neom

Earlier this month, Will Smith was at Neom, invited by the project’s media team, Neom told Skift.

Smith posted a video on Instagram morning his recent visit to Neom.

The post went out to Smith’s 64 million followers and came during his trip to the Kingdom where he also stopped at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah to plug his upcoming movie.


Qatar Tourism Names New Chairman, Replaces Al Baker

4 months ago

The Qatari government has appointed a new chairman for its tourism arm: Saad Ali Al Kharji. Al Kharji is now chairman of Qatar Tourism, succeeding Akbar Al Baker, who yesterday announced his departure from Qatar Airways after 27 years.

Al Kharji’s appointment was confirmed in a decree by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. It was only last July that the emir made Al Kharji the deputy chairman of Qatar Tourism, at that time under Al Baker.

Al Baker Resigns

Al Baker was CEO of a group of companies, such as Qatar Executive and Hamad International Airport. Under his stewardship, the airline, which started with just five aircraft in 1996, has grown to 258 aircraft. 

In his note to employees, Al Baker wrote: “After 27 years of service, I am writing to you to announce that I will step down from the Qatar Airways Group. In 1996, with a fleet of just five aircraft, unwavering dedication, and a loyal and passionate team, together we embarked on a remarkable journey to aviation excellence. From that very first day, our journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.”