Maida’n Salah: Saudi Arabia on Tourism

Maida’n Salah:    



Maida\'n Salah







The Kingdom on Tourism 



When the Kingdom puts it mind to it, it can promote and initiate tourism quite well.  I recently took a weekend trip to Maida’n Salah.  This was a magnificent trip which I’ll be writing about in a series of several posts to properly capture and illustrate the experience.  I’ll begin first on my views and impressions in regards to the Kingdom on tourism.



Tourism is now the fastest growing industry in the Kingdom and it is expected that the tourism will employ more Saudis than any other industry.  Tourism training and schools have been established and the first batch of graduates recently graduated this past month.  They have all been placed already in jobs within either the Ministry of Culture or with predominant tourism agencies such as Al Fursan or Al Tayer.



On the trip to Maida’n Salah, all arrangements were made through the Al Urac hotel in Al Ula.  Al Ula is the closest small town where the historic sites of Maida’n Salah are located.  To being with, it must be mentioned that the Governor of Medinah (who has jurisdiction over Al Ula) designated Al Ula and the areas of the historic sites as a “no Muttawa zone.”  What this means in addition to the obvious that no muttawa are allowed in these areas, is that the women who come to Maida’n Salah are not required to wear an abaya or a headscarf unless they choose to do so.  The locale residents of Al Ula have become accustomed to seeing visitors (which include Saudis) who are wearing typical albeit modest western clothing.  There are no jeers or stares or inappropriate remarks or behaviors.  The locals were warm and welcoming and overall proud to have guests to their town and eager to show their hospitality.



Unlike previous outings in the Kingdom which were informally arranged, this trip was very precise and punctual.  Everyone in the group was provided with an itinerary and an agenda which was overall adhered to.  A few modifications were made but these were to include some additional sites which further enhanced the experience and gave everyone additional knowledge and insights of the Al Ula/Maida’n Salah region.



The Al Urac hotel has a professional and friendly staff.  I would classify the hotel as a three star hotel and its casual style is ideal for the setting and atmosphere of Al Ula.  The hotel has both rooms and suites.  Other facilities include a volleyball court and swimming pool.  It has tables and chairs interspersed among its grounds as the evening time is lovely to sit outside with other guests and make new friends.  The hotel has one large centralized restaurant where three daily meals are provided buffet style.  The food is what I would call “international” and the lunch and dinner routinely served a choice of beef, chicken and fish dishes as well as a mix of salads, vegetables and pastas.  Noone should go hungry!  The chef was a master at preparing delectable soups each day that were a treat and meal unto themselves!  His crème caramel is also worthy of a mention too and should not be missed.



The breakfast was a mix of East and West offering various egg dishes, yogurts, cereals, franks, beans, breads and sweets.  Fresh fruit was always available.  I should also note that fresh fruit juices were provided at breakfast time and the chef would also make his own blends of mixing different juices which were thick and similar to a milkshake in consistency.



Typical of the region, the Al Urac hotel has not mastered the art of perked coffee.  Be prepared for over-abundant Nescafe and Lipton tea.  These two companies did their marketing so well in the region but I’m still hopeful that some day more choices of perked coffee will become available.



While we had a full daytime schedule which started at 0800 hours after the hearty breakfast, the areas where I see room for improvement are during the evening hours.  We would be returned to our hotel circa 1800 hours each day.  The group would typically go to have dinner because being out all day among and climbing the magnificent sites (which will be described in future posts) tend to give one a healthy appetite.  But after dinner one is left to their own resources for entertainment.  In my view, the tour could have been enhanced if some evening activities could have been incorporated such as the traditional music of the evening or a demonstration of traditional dance…or even photo shows of the sites seen or yet to be seen.



Other areas where the Kingdom has yet to improve on tourism include provision of facilities.  Our group went out to remote sites where we would spend several hours at a time.  These sites do not have any kind of washroom facilities.  In one case our group left to return to the hotel since a majority needed a “pit stop break” and then subsequently returned to the sites.



Another area which perhaps is debatable as an improvement is provision of small souks.  Our particular tour did not make any stops at places for shopping where one could purchase mementos of the area.  Alternatively, if allowed, enterprising vendors could set up small shops near the site areas selling photos, posters, t-shirts, traditional cloths, etc.  A small bedu style tent where one could sit on cushions and have tea or Arabic kawa or even smoke the hubbly-bubbly and take a rest from hiking and the sun would be welcomed.



Lastly I would suggest having camel rides and horse rides available near the sites as well as having a falcon on display.  Yes; these suggestions would make the now pristine area more commercialized so incorporating these concepts can be somewhat of a double-edged sword and open to debate on the pros and cons.



There were 20 of us in our group.  The hotel provided what we warmly called our “Offroad Coaster” as we had an excellent Saudi driver who had no qualms in driving that bus as if it were the latest Toyota Landcruiser!  However for long road trips it would have been more feasible to have had a modern bus with comfortable seating.  The bus we were in was okay for the touring around Maida’n Salah but it is also the same bus which we used for the  5.5 hour journey to and from Medinah.



This post would not be complete without a mention of security.  From the moment we first arrived in Medinah from Riyadh and until our return to the Medinah airport, we were escorted at all times by Saudi security officials.  They were vigilant, professional, polite and friendly.  Even though we were in desolate areas I always felt secure and protected.



I must also add that in addition to our own group, the Al Urac hotel was fully booked.  Its guests also included a large group of Taiwanese (yes, you read that correctly) tourists.  The Taiwanese group were not expats in the Kingdom such as our group but actually on an official tour of 10 countries of which Saudi Arabia was one of their stops.  I believe this is a positive sign that tourism is being taken very seriously in the Kingdom, although I think it still needs to be better promoted.



Taiwanese Tourists in KSA     



If I can cite this trip to Maida’n Salah as an example of how the Kingdom is equipping itself for tourism, then in my view, the Kingdom is on the right track.


Saudi Arabia: Waste & Excess

Waste & Excess abounds in some factions of the Kingdom.  There are those who are excessively rich and will have so much yet they desire to keep acquiring and collecting more.  If they have the funds to do so, that is certainly their right on how to choose the way they will spend.  There are others who do not have the funds yet will also spent freely, waste money basically and buy in excess.  In this case, most are doing so for show with little care or regard to the practicalities of life.  It is more important to present a facade of being en elitist and wearing the latest fashions, having the most exclusive designer handbag over ones arms, even if it means letting the electricity bill go unpaid, not having the funds to buy food and staples…for after all, outsiders will not see or be aware of that.


What can be done, if anything to stop these perpetuating patterns?  The women in these circumstances seem to not have a clue about finances or budgetary constraints.  The men for whatever reason, allow it to happen.  I guess it is just as important to them to present an allied front with their family on the facade they wish to present.


But at what point does the illusion begin to crack and shatter?  How long can these pretenses stand up before there are repurcussions?  And who pays and how?

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