Soudah Development set to become the adventure capital of Saudi Arabia, GCC: CEO AlMadani

The showpiece project joins Mountain Partnership of 400 global members in a bid to preserve fragile ecosystems and rich biodiversity in the largest country in the GCC.


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 10:32 AM

Last updated: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 1:34 PM

The Soudah Development (SD) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on Wednesday announced its membership of the Mountain Partnership.

It is an alliance dedicated to protecting mountain environments around the world whose Secretariat is hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

The partnership will allow SD to tap into an international wealth of experience and resources, as it develops a regulatory framework to preserve the environment and its cultural and human heritage, in conjunction with its luxury mountain ecotourism project.

SD joins over 400 global members comprising governments, intergovernmental organizations, companies and civil society groups in a commitment to improving the lives of the local communities, preserving mountain ecosystems and rich biodiversity.

“The Mountain Partnership has been working globally for over 20 years to ensure the social and economic well-being and livelihoods of mountain peoples as well as the protection of mountain areas” says Rosalaura Romeo of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat. “We’re happy to be expanding in the region and look forward to collaborating with Soudah Development,” Romeo added.

SD is the first developer in the KSA and in the Arabian Gulf to join the Partnership that was established in 2002. This membership will be the first of many environmental and sustainability-focused partnerships that SD will take part in to achieve sustainable development, in line with those of the UN, foremost of which are environmental protection and combating climate change.

Located at a height of 3,015 metres (m) above sea level, the mountainous area in the Asir region is the highest point in the KSA.
It is set to become the mountain adventure capital of the KSA and the wider region, offering opportunities for hiking and exploration, paragliding and other adventurous outdoor activities in a serene setting.

Husameddin AlMadani, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SD, spoke exclusively to Khaleej Times to give a lowdown about the project.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What is the SD project?

SD is a closed joint stock real estate development company owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of the KSA. Situated 3,015m above sea level, SD is creating a luxury mountain tourism destination in the Asir region that offers immersive cultural experiences and simultaneously celebrates the region’s natural landscape.  We plan to invest $3 (Dh11.02) billion to redefine regional tourism, hospitality, entertainment, wellness and adventure by developing 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units and 30 experiential attractions to become the newest year-round visitor destination in the KSA.

How is it integral to Saudi Vision 2030?

Driving tourism and entertainment growth comes under the Saudi Vision 2030 blueprint for socioeconomic progress and SD plays a key role as one of the major PIF projects.
SD is an integral part of PIF’s contribution to the KSA’s goals of enhancing and developing tourism and entertainment nationwide. As an impact-focused company, our developments will lead to the creation of more than 8,000 permanent jobs by 2030, as well creating thousands of temporary roles during the lifecycle of our project.

What’s PIF’s involvement in the project?

Soudah Development is a closed joint stock real estate development company which is wholly owned by the PIF. The company was launched by His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the chairman of PIF and Chairman of SD, in February 2021. As part of growing its portfolio within Saudi Arabia, PIF has allocated Dh 11.02 billion to the Soudah mountains in the Asir region. We were established to plan and execute the development of Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa and thus play an integral part in PIF's contribution to KSA’s Vision 2030 strategy.

What’s the immersive experience that the project offers?

Soudah is the highest part of KSA and is around 15 degrees Celsius cooler than the rest of the region. Its altitude and clean, cool air make it a perfect year-round destination where visitors can experience a range of sporting, wellness and adventure activities. But it will offer so much more too; Soudah is part of Rijal Almaa and is celebrated for its unique culture, rich heritage and authenticity. Visitors will be able to experience things they never thought existed in the KSA.

What does the natural landscape of the Asir region in the KSA look like?

Asir has a distinct natural landscape, with attractive mountains, plains, and sea beaches, as well as a pleasant climate throughout the year. All of which contributed to its quick growth as a significant tourist destination. The highlands are covered in the green crop of juniper trees and as SD, we are committed to protecting the area’s extraordinary natural environment. Last month, we announced plans to plant more than one million trees by 2030.  This is in line with the Saudi Green Initiative, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 4 per cent and raise protected areas to more than 30 per cent.

What are the distinct characters of Soudah?

SD will invest in the infrastructure of Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa, advancing the entertainment, residential and commercial sectors, while increasing access to its unique culture, national treasures and heritage sites. The area is known for its dense juniper-covered mountains and an endless legacy of sports, adventure and outdoor activities. Just coming up on the cable car, high above the mountain slopes, feels like an adventure in itself. The most popular activity is to hike, but the area will one day also offer mountain biking, horse riding and paragliding over the valleys. The night sky here is unobscured by light pollution and on a clear night, it’s an excellent place to camp and stargaze, with an array of constellations visible overhead.

What are the three distinctive pillars of the project?

We have several primary objectives to develop Soudah into a world-class destination. Our heritage and environmental integrity is a significant factor for our journey where we want to protect natural resources and promote biodiversity. Another key objective is creating sustainable tourism to establish a year-round destination for local and international travelers.

Our development will follow a rigorous regulatory framework and urban planning code to underpin all activities. Our goal is to attract over two million visitors throughout the year by 2030, offering adventure, authentic and cultural experiences. We also want to empower local communities, attract foreign direct investment and create potential partnerships across the public and private sectors.

What are the key messages of the project?

The key messages of our project are simple: We aim to create a unique mountain destination high above the clouds to enhance the tourism and entertainment sectors in Saudi Arabia. We aim to create a tourism destination like no other, and one where sustainability is a guiding principle for everything we do. We will do this whilst simultaneously celebrating the area’s unique culture, heritage and local communities that make this destination a place like no other.

SD is the first Arabian Gulf developer to join the Mountain Partnership, what is this membership about and why is it an important highlight?

The Mountain Partnership is a United Nations voluntary alliance of governments and organisations committed to working together with the common goal of achieving sustainable mountain development around the world. By tapping the wealth and diversity of knowledge, information, and expertise of and between its global membership, the Mountain Partnership stimulates concrete initiatives at all levels to address threats, improve quality of life and sustain healthy environments in the world’s mountain regions.

SD has become the first developer in the KSA and the wider Arabian Gulf region to join the Mountain Partnership. It will allow us to share international best practices in excellence and governance while simultaneously empowering local communities and driving forward sustainable mountain development. This membership will be the first of many environmental and sustainability partnerships we will take part in to promote low-impact tourism, environmental protection and climate action.

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