Saudi Arabia is aiming to become a hub for wellness, hosting a number of events to elevate the health industry in the kingdom.
Local as well as international participants have descended on AlUla Wellness festival, which includes immersive activities, installations and talks by world-renowned experts.
This year’s 16-day event is the third and largest iteration. It will conclude on November 4.
AlUla Wellness festival has brought together Saudi health enthusiasts – particularly those who practise yoga – from across the country to engage in an extensive programme of holistic workshops and interactive activities linked to the historical and natural heritage of AlUla.
“This is our third edition, so each year we add new experiences, we add new activities, and you know we’re sold out,” Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told The National.
“What we love about this opportunity is we’re bringing in global leaders, gurus, yogis, therapists and then we’re incorporating, we’re training about five local young women to be part of this. It’s the best of both worlds because this is an opportunity for them for their future career.
“If they’re trained from the best in the world, then they can share that and transfer that knowledge and be our local ambassadors for wellness and do this on a year-round basis.”
Nouf, a Saudi wellness enthusiast, said: “There is so much to do here! I had an emotional workshop where we discussed mental health and then I got to jump on a hot air balloon.
“My mind was blown! We also get to plant trees and bricks for restoration projects in AlUla so that helps us feels like we left our mark here.”
Several agreements with major universities in Saudi Arabia have been signed to support and promote yoga as part of the kingdom’s burgeoning health and sport industries.
In September, the president of the Saudi Yoga Committee said Saudi Arabia is backing the activity as a means of supporting a healthy lifestyle, fostering self-development and creating a better world.
How AlUla became kingdom’s major wellness destination
“When you’re in a high-stress job, you have to have a release, right?” said Mr Jones.
“It’s important for everyone to have that and I believe, mental health and wellness is so important in today’s environment.”
When you’re in a high-stress job, you have to have a release, right? It’s important for everyone to have that and I believe, mental health and wellness is so important in today’s environment
Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla
With life being so “fast-paced, it’s so stressful that we have to find ways to de-stress and this is one of the many ways that are available along with our AlUla bike hub, where you can go on a bike ride or you go on a trail ride or a hike”.
He added that studies have shown that the more time people spend outside, the better their mental health.
Speaking about the growing interest in AlUla wellness festival, he said, “this is our focus on wellness as one of the pillars for the tourism development of the destination”.
“You look around and the weather’s amazing, the setting is gorgeous, and it’s very serene and mystical,” Mr Jones explained.
“It’s one of the experiences that people have when they come here, but we want to take it to the next level and incorporate structured events and activations to really take advantage of yoga, mental health, sound therapy, face yoga and all the cool stuff we’re doing because we want AlUla to be synonymous with wellness across the kingdom
“When people think, ‘I want a destination that focuses on wellness’, we want AlUla to be the first sort of destination in the kingdom that really incorporates that.”
Najwa, a representative of skincare and beauty brand L’Occitane which sponsored the wellness festival, said AlUla is the best spot for wellness.
“Everything is so zen, so calm,” she said.
“It’s so weird thinking and having no interruptions. I’ve never experienced something like this. From the drumming classes to the yoga classes and meditation, everything has been great.”
Experts discuss natural healing energy of AlUla
Nancy Zabaneh, a wellness expert attending the festival, said she was committed to starting conversations that are transformative for people’s lives.
AlUla’s opening to the world represents to me our great potential as human beings to break down barriers both inside of ourselves and in the wider collective
Nancy Zabaneh, wellness expert
“The world is in a turbulent moment right now and AlUla offers a return to nature, to exquisite landscapes, into a path that has been untrodden for many years,” she said.
She said AlUla helped her to find “my own space of stillness which, frankly speaking, is a necessary ingredient for engaging this challenging life with a certain grace, grit, stamina and endurance”.
“And because it was hidden for so long, AlUla’s opening to the world represents to me our great potential as human beings to break down barriers both inside of ourselves and in the wider collective.”
Maha Turki, a Saudi lawyer, life coach and motivational speaker, said she came to AlUla to talk about “the self and how to understand yourself, how to like dig deep more of yourself”.
“I came last year and I was amazed. That’s why I wanted to be part of it this year and here I am,” she said.
“My session is called ‘Healing Inner Child’ and it’s a very interesting one. We actually do it in Riyadh in a retreat for six hours, but we try to minimise everything in order to give it in only one and a half hour.
“You know, I couldn’t think of any better place because AlUla itself is healing. There’s a healing energy without doing anything. So just the thought of just improving wellness, helping yourself, being with yourself, I think this is the perfect place really for everyone.”
Updated: November 03, 2023, 7:07 AM