Mada’in Salih, AlUla
Mada’in Salih, AlUlaShutterstock

AlUla's Melanie De Souza On Tourism, Sustainability And More

In its global campaign, Forever Revitalising, the Saudi Tourism Board emphasised that it aims to position AlUla as a tourist space that leaves a lasting impression on travellers with its history, heritage, and culture

If you have an eye for nature and heritage, AlUla is your place. As one of the best tourism villages under the UN, this Saudi Arabian region has successfully drawn tourists for its scenic splendour and remnants of an ancient civilisation that traces back thousands of years. Curled amidst a lush oasis, AlUla houses about 900 traditional buildings, offering a glimpse into its diverse vistas ranging from archaeology to agriculture. 

The Saudi Arabia Tourism Board has once again brought the spotlight on this historic city with its "Forever Revitalising" campaign, a global brand initiative to position AlUla beyond destination marketingWhether it is an opportunity for economic advancement or the enrichment, cohesion and upskilling of community, Forever Revitalising is relevant across the entire project, introducing AlUla to the world,” said Melanie de Souza, Executive Director of Destination Marketing, Royal Commission for AlUla.

Melanie, Executive Director of Destination Marketing, Royal Commission for AlUla
Melanie, Executive Director of Destination Marketing, Royal Commission for AlUlaRoyal Commission for AlUla

As part of its global outreach, the Royal Commission for AlUla recently held an event in Mumbai to invite Indian travellers to this beautiful oasis, unveiling a short movie that positions AlUla as a premier tourist stop replete with history, cultural allure and scenic landscapes. Besides, the tourism board also emphasised breaking away from misconceptions associated with the Middle Eastern nation and how it is an inclusive travel hotspot, welcoming all sorts of travellers. 

The board also highlighted that women travellers can explore the city without any restrictions on clothing and are not required to wear traditional outfits here, except at places of worship. Enlightening us further on this emerging tourist space, de Souza took us through their expansion plans and initiatives like sustainability to attract the right patrons.


Can you provide insights into the "Forever Revitalising" campaign for AlUla and the motivation behind launching a new campaign despite AlUla's rising popularity among travellers?


This campaign extends far beyond India; it's a global initiative. We aim to authentically represent Alula's voice and identity, tailored to each unique market we've identified through extensive research. Unlike traditional methods that merely list attractions, we focus on articulating Alula's core purpose and brand essence, which centres around sustainability. This means highlighting initiatives like our expansive nature reserves, where ecological balance is restored, and our collaborations with local farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. 

Local engagement is paramount for us. It's not just about the food on our tables, sourced from the region, but also about nurturing local economies. This includes supporting small and medium enterprises in arts, crafts, and other sectors and promoting economic prosperity within our communities.


What are the primary objectives you aim to accomplish through this fresh campaign?


Our primary goal is to establish a clear and memorable position for our brand in the minds of our customers. As the campaign progresses, we'll delve deeper into our brand pillars, offering more detailed insights into adventure, nature, wellness, and heritage. Subsequently, as people engage more deeply, we'll provide detailed information on each aspect of our brand, guiding them through adventure, nature, wellness, and heritage experiences. Eventually, we'll transition into the consideration phase, where we'll highlight our collaboration with the travel industry to create enticing destination packages, effectively presenting our offerings at various price points.


With the international market being a major focus, how has AlUla attracted attention from travellers outside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, mainly from India, China, Europe and Australia?


Our awareness levels in the Gulf region are notably high due to its proximity to AlUla. However, our data reveals that India holds the largest share of website traffic and engagement. While I can't provide specific data, our digital platforms and website traffic metrics reflect this trend. It's worth noting that this increased awareness benefits not only AlUla but also tour operators in India who receive traffic referrals from our website.


Given the emphasis on luxury travel, what unique offerings does AlUla provide to cater to affluent travellers, and how does this align with the destination's overall branding?


Let's start with our distinctive hotels. The Banyan Tree and Habitus are two stunning properties nestled in breathtaking landscapes, emphasising sustainability. With stunning pools, spa facilities, and dining options, guests are immersed in the beauty of the Ashar Valley. We're also excited about the upcoming luxury spaces, like Tamura in Old Town and the boutique hotel at the historic Hijaz railway station in Hegra.

Habitas hotel has a sustainable and stylish hotel decor
Habitas hotel has a sustainable and stylish hotel decor experiencealula/Instagram

Moving beyond hotels, our adventure offerings redefine luxury through unique and authentic experiences. Massive creative expressions inspired by the desert landscape await exploration in the arts sector. Our prolific calendar of events and festivals offers diverse programming, including concerts at Mariah and dining experiences at Michelin-star restaurants. Luxury isn't just about price points; it's about the quality and authenticity of the experience, something we pride ourselves on delivering in AlUla.


You mentioned in an interview that AlUla isn't actively targeting families but focuses on luxury and intrepid travellers. Could you elaborate on the reasons behind this strategic decision and how it aligns with the destination's vision for the future?


Marketing is about making deliberate choices rather than trying to cater to everyone. We focus on the most lucrative segments of the market where we have suitable offerings. Considering our legacy and cultural attractions, we recognise that our sites and ancient civilisations may not appeal to young children. Therefore, our marketing efforts target audiences who appreciate and engage with our offerings.

While our offerings may not cater to very young children, families with older children, particularly in their early teens, will find plenty to do, especially in the adventure space. Activities like the giant swing and zipline often appeal to them. We acknowledge our target audience and design experiences accordingly, ensuring we deliver meaningful and engaging experiences to those who visit AlUla.


Is AlUla a destination that can be enjoyed year-round, or do you have recommendations regarding the best time for visitors to experience the region?


Effort is to make it a year-round destination. We want to challenge the perception that AlUla is only a prime destination from October to March. We're actively promoting the shoulder seasons, where excellent content and programming are available. Even during the hottest months of July and August, visitors can find respite in the oasis that runs through the centre of AlUla. This area offers diverse attractions, including restaurants, eco farms, and wellness offerings, all while being ten degrees cooler than the surrounding areas.

Also, let me add that "Forever Revitalising" is the only positioning for the long term. These two words encapsulate the essence of who we are and why we exist. While our packaging strategies may evolve, this core idea remains at the heart of AlUla's identity. It defines our purpose and underscores why AlUla matters in the broader context.

Outlook Traveller