Inaugural in-person gathering of Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO held in AlUla

 Wednesday, March 15, 2023 


The first-ever in-person meeting of representatives of the Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO was held in AlUla, the ancient crossroads of civilisations in north-west Arabia. AlUla is now emerging as a global destination for cultural and natural heritage.

The villages, including AlUla Old Town District were recognised in December as part of UNWTO’s Best Tourism Villages (BTV) initiative, “recognises villages that are an outstanding example of a rural tourism destination with accredited cultural and natural assets, that preserve and promote rural and community-based values, products, and lifestyle and have a clear commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social, and environmental.”

On March 12-13, the UNWTO hosted the inaugural Best Tourism Villages Award Ceremony and meeting of the BTV Network in AlUla. The event served as a knowledge-sharing platform for best practises, community empowerment, and public-private partnerships.

Delegates assembled in AlUla’s Maraya multi-purpose venue, which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest mirror-clad structure, with mirrors covering its 9,740 sqm surface.

The BTV programme aligns with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which aims to triple tourism’s share of the national economy to 10%. In 2019 Saudi Arabia introduced eVisas for citizens of 49 countries, and this February the Kingdom introduced a 96-hour stopover visa.

The meeting, according to the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), upholds AlUla’s legacy as a cultural crossroads. There is a natural synergy between the destination and the UNWTO’s BTV initiative, since it has been a location of collaboration and cultural exchange for millennia.

AlUla’s position on the 2022 list is a testament to RCU’s cultural revitalization, and managed reconstruction of heritage places.

Earlier, HE Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, said, “The Ministry is proud to partner with UNWTO to host the Best Tourism Villages 2022 Awards Ceremony and jointly convene the first meeting of the BTV Network in the historic destination of AlUla, one of the villages across the globe recognised for its innovative approach to transforming the tourism sector.”

Mr. Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO, said, “For rural communities everywhere, tourism can be a true gamechanger in providing jobs, supporting local businesses and keeping traditions alive. The Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO showcase the power of the sector to drive economic diversification and create opportunities for all outside of big cities.”

Eng. Amr AlMadani, CEO of RCU, said, “This gathering of the world’s best tourism villages serves several purposes for RCU: it allows us to share insights with destinations that share our commitment to sustainable regeneration, it showcases Maraya as a leading venue for conferences. It also provides our guests with the opportunity to visit AlUla, including the remarkable site of Hegra, which in 2008 was inscribed as Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

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