Accor, a world-leading augmented hospitality group, has signed a landmark agreement to debut MGallery, its boutique experience-led hotel brand, in Saudi Arabia’s premier heritage destination, Al Ula.
The group has partnered with prominent Jeddah-based firm, Skonmas Trading Company, to take over and manage an existing resort in the kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Shaden Resort Al Ula, an MGallery Experience, set to make history as the first property operated by an international hotel company in this remarkable location when it opens its doors.
Accor’s takeover of the resort not only marks a major milestone in the group’s Saudi Arabia expansion strategy, but showcases the diversity of hospitality and lifestyle experiences it has to offer the kingdom in support of Vision 2030, which aims to develop
areas of outstanding heritage, culture and natural beauty such as Al Ula.
As a brand defined by its unique guest experiences with local essence and an authentic story, MGallery is the perfect fit for the heritage destination. The tent-like resort, which will offer a range of eco-tourism, adventure, wellness and cultural activities, will enrich, inspire and delight guests in an atmospheric location that exudes MGallery’s signature ‘Serenity’ experience.
“This represents a one-of-a-kind takeover opportunity for Accor and signals our commitment to the responsible and sustainable development of Al Ula in line with Vision 2030 and its ambitions for transforming this spectacular UNESCO-listed site into a global tourism destination of distinction,” said Mark Willis, CEO, Accor Middle East & Africa.
“It is an honour to partner with Skonmas Trading Company and strengthen our relationship with The Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) to make history as the first international hospitality group to operate a property in Al Ula, and MGallery, a curator of singular experiences, is the perfect brand to immerse guests in the raw beauty and wonder of this astonishing site in Saudi Arabia’s heritage heartland.”
Abdullah Saleh Alsorayai, owner of Skonmas Trading Company, added: “The development and promotion of Al Ula as a leading cultural and heritage destination for global travellers is a strategic priority for the government and our group, and requires the provision of world-class accommodation and tourism experiences. As a key stakeholder that shares the kingdom’s vision and has proven local and global hospitality expertise, Accor is the right partner to help move Al Ula onto its next exciting chapter.”
The existing Al Ula resort offers 79 keys in solid tent-like structures inspired by local architecture, as well as an all-day dining restaurant, coffee lounge, boardroom, swimming pool, fitness centre and spa. It is currently undergoing expansion, adding 60 new rooms, a larger dining area and 400sqm of flexible meeting space, while adjustments adhering to RCU requirements are also being made.
This transformation will be completed by November this year when Accor takes over the property’s operations in the lead up to the popular Winter at Tantora Festival, a musical extravaganza deemed a major highlight on the kingdom’s annual events calendar.
Further enhancements, including modifications in line with MGallery brand standards, will be made over the next 12 months with a view to re-launching the property as Shaden Resort Al Ula, an MGallery Experience, in November 2020. Additional restaurants and swimming pools will be added over the next few years to keep pace with demand growth.
Nestled in a haven of archaeological splendour with canyons, mountains and spectacular rock formations that date back to the Nabatean Kingdom, contrasted by pristine desert and lush oases, the resort will offer eco-adventure, history, culture and wellness experiences, appealing to guests who want to discover what lies beyond the region’s well-known beaches, as well as groups seeking a one-of-a-kind destination for corporate retreats and events.
The area’s roster of activities, which are attracting an increasing number of visitors year round, include heritage site tours, horse and camel riding, off-road driving, Formula BMW racing, mountain climbing, golf, shopping and visits to cultural attractions including the UNESCO-listed Al-Hijr archaeological site; the prehistoric Harrat ‘Uwayrid lava fields; Al-Ula Heritage Village; and the Sheeran nature reserve.
Al Ula is situated in north-west Saudi Arabia and is easy to access, with Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz Domestic Airport just 25km from the area and served by flights from Riyadh, Jeddah and Ha’il and Madinah a 3.5-hour journey by road from the resort.
The decision to appoint Accor to operate Al Ula’s resort builds on its solid relationship with RCU, the entity established in July 2017 to preserve and develop the 2,000-year-old archaeological site and sustainably transform the region into a cultural tourism hub.
RCU selected Accor as the exclusive hospitality partner for the Winter at Tantora Festival in February this year, operating the luxury rooms, villas and facilities at event’s Ashar Winter Camp. It provided the ideal opportunity to showcase Accor’s expertise as a leading provider of innovative and culturally sensitive hospitality experiences in Saudi Arabia.
Accor’s growing involvement in the Al Ula tourism experience also supports an agreement of cooperation signed between Saudi Arabia and France, where the group is headquartered, which pledges to preserve and develop the site to boost its socio-economic contribution, in line with Vision 2030 ambitions.