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Neom rises from the sands to tempt holidaymakers

Posted 6 March 2020 · Add Comment

Saudi Arabia’s ‘vision 2030’ plan for the country’s future development is contributing to the growth of new airports, such as Neom Bay. Alan Dron reports.

A holiday in Saudi Arabia? Not, perhaps, the first location that would spring to mind, especially for western tourists.
However, that could be about to change, with the country pumping time, effort and money into developing its tourism sector.
Beyond religious tourism, which has been the only really major sector that the country has handled until now, the Saudi authorities believe that they can put their country firmly on the map for ‘ordinary’ tourists.
New resorts are springing up and, in late September, the country relaxed its visa requirements for 49 countries, as well as its strict dress code for foreign female visitors.
Previously, visas were restricted to pilgrims, business travellers and family reunions, and were extremely expensive. Travellers are now able to apply online for a visa, either before their trip or at an electronic desk on arrival, with visas costing SAR440 (just less than $120).
The coasts of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba, whose shores include the Jordanian and Egyptian resorts of Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh respectively, are prime sites for such developments.
Joining the Jordanian and Egyptian resorts over the next few years will be the city of Neom, which is about to start rising from the sands.
The city, however, will be much more than simply a tourist destination. It will be a fully fledged mega-city in the Sharma region, extending 460km along the coast of the Red Sea. It is a proposed cross-border metropolis linking Jordan with the Tabuk Province of north-western Saudi Arabia.
The name Neom is an abbreviation of the Latin-Arabic term neo-mustaqbal, meaning new future, and the city will focus on advanced industries and technology, with power being generated solely from wind and solar energy and robots intended to be used for many of the city’s services.
Saudi Arabia aims to complete the first section of Neom by 2025; the project has an estimated cost of $500 billion.
Somewhere that big needs transport links. And Neom Bay Airport will be one of them. A former military facility, it has been designated as a commercial airport following the start of a Riyadh-Neom charter service operated by Saudia in January.
A significant step in development of the airport came on June 30, when the first scheduled flight, operated by national carrier, Saudia, from Riyadh, landed on the single 3,757m runway.
The initial months of the airport’s existence will see extremely light traffic, with a couple of flights a week to and from the Saudi capital being largely devoted to flying in the staff and workers undertaking the city’s development.
Saudi regulator, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), has licensed Neom Bay as a commercial airport, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) giving the airport the designator NUM.
At present, a temporary terminal and associated buildings are in place, but these will be replaced and grow as the city is developed.
Initially, facilities are modest, with six check-in counters and the same number of aircraft parking bays, but these will expand as the airport is developed.
The establishment of the airport fits into the strategic objectives of Saudi Arabia’s vision 2030, aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy away from oil and gas. As part of this plan, GACA is involved in the creation of a network of modern airports that will contribute to the development of the country’s economy by creating a modern and global logistics platform for organisations and individuals involved in import and export.
Meanwhile, national carrier, Saudia, entered a strategic partnership with Neom Co at the end of September in a wide-ranging agreement to work together on promoting the city as a tourism location.
Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding (MoU), Saudia said it would work with Neom to create worldwide awareness of the vast project. In addition, it was agreed that Saudia Holidays would develop products and packaged experiences for visitors.

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