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RIYADH: The historic city of AlUla received more than 250,000 visitors in the past 12 months, far exceeding its forecast, said a senior government official.

The city developers had already covered huge ground, considering it had envisaged attracting one million visitors by 2025.

“The plan is to keep it preserve the nature. We don’t want to create a destination and then destroy it by bringing too many people,” John Northen, executive director – head of hotels and resorts at the Royal Commission of AlUla, or RCU, told Arab News.

“So, we are providing an experience that is very carefully created and managed for visitors,” Northen said.

One such labor of love is the Banyan Tree Hotel, a sprawling destination with 79 villas slated to open in October this year.

The plan is to keep it preserve the nature … We are providing an experience that is very carefully created and managed for visitors.

John Northen, Executive director — head of hotels and resorts at RCU

The hotel is also a worthy neighbor of Maraya Hall, the largest mirrored building in the world and a centerpiece of the city’s growing cultural landscape.

The RCU is also developing AlUla’s old town, where they will inaugurate the 30-room Boutique Hotel in October.

“It’s going to be completely different; you will feel like you traveled back in time and experienced something very unusual,” he said.

The city has also regenerated its 2,000 square kilometers of vast Sharaan Nature Reserve, a sanctuary to the Arabian leopards.

“Here, we are developing two exciting hotels, one designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, which will be crafted inside the mountain,” Northen said.

The destination is also home to international fine dining restaurants

“Food and beverage are already a great strength for AlUla,” he added.

Most of the restaurants in the city have been seasonal based on the tourism traffic. However, RCU will operate them throughout the year starting from next year.

Part of the RCU’s strategy is to engage the local community and offer training programs.

“The population of AlUla is 42,000 people. We are trying to hire as many as we can and give educational opportunities,” said Northen, adding that they have already opened a language school and will soon be setting up a hotel management school.

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