AlUla Old Town in Saudi Arabia has been awarded the title of Best Tourism Village by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The event, called “Tourism – Changing Lives,” was held at the Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla and aimed to highlight achievements in tourism. A total of 32 locations received awards at the event, which focused on the commitment of the villages to economic, social, and environmental sustainability in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The initiative aims to support local communities, particularly villages, to create income through new jobs, education, innovation, and investment.
It's no surprise that AlUla Old Town has received an award for its preservation of historic architecture and culture, while also embracing tourism as a way to positively transform the community. With 900 houses, 500 shops, and five town squares, the town has been working hard to achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability through tourism.
The Saudi Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, praised the villages receiving recognition for their efforts to create new jobs and educational opportunities in the tourism sector, while supporting local communities. The UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, emphasized that the initiative was designed to support local communities and create income through new jobs, education, innovation, and investment. He added that tourism has the power to bring people and countries together, and that the UNWTO is working with local governments to make tourism more accessible and affordable.
Despite the pandemic, the international tourism industry has recovered to 63% of its pre-pandemic levels in 2022, according to UNWTO. The organization is working to create new and old destinations and to create new jobs in the tourism sector.
Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, discussed the future of AlUla and how tourism can help achieve innovation and inclusivity. He stressed the importance of working with the local community to create new types of shops, technologies, and expertise. The goal is to use tourism as a tool for positive change, creating economic growth while preserving the area's cultural heritage.
The public perception of tourism has also changed drastically since the pandemic, with people looking for more authenticity and getting off the beaten track. Rural tourism is becoming more popular, and the recognition of small rural places like AlUla Old Town and Zell am See, a town in the Austrian Alps that also received an award at the ceremony, shows that there is a real shift in what people want from their holidays. Carmen Roberts, presenter of BBC’s “The Travel Show,” praised the small rural places that received recognition and suggested that a series about such locations would be fascinating to see.