Reuters: A world away from the Arabian desert plains, Abha is popular with Saudi tourists for its greenery, mountain views and mild climate – and the city has now been declared the country’s first tourism capital.
Thousands of residents, officials and guests gathered for a ceremony to mark the occasion, with fireworks and music from Abadi Al-Juhar, a well-known singer and oud player who sang the city’s praises.
Becoming ‘Capital of Arab Tourism 2017’ is more than just symbolic. It means the city is receiving government investment to help boost tourism and the local economy.
Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said 2.7 billion riyals ($720 million) had been earmarked for tourism projects inside the Kingdom, of which about 360 million riyals were allocated this year.
It is impossible to build new industry and economic activity and employ citizens without stimulus from the state,” he said on the sidelines of the Abha event, describing tourism as the economy of the future.
Under its ‘Vision 2030’ program, Saudi Arabia plans to invest in various sectors to restructure the economy and make it less dependent on oil revenue.
Climate, natural beauty and cultural heritage are among the attractions that the locals hope will draw increasing numbers of visitors to the city of fewer than 1 million people in the south-west of the country, 2,200 meters (7,000 feet) above sea level.
“I was very happy today because we received artists performing for us. I hope that more guests come and get to know my city,” said Fajr al Maqrafi, a local girl attending the celebrations.
Fireworks lit up the night sky at the end of the event at the Abha lakeside against the backdrop of the highest mountains in the kingdom.