Saudi Arabian tourism agency Arnawa is built on its founder’s lifelong passion to share with visitors the fascinating area that he calls home
When Khalil Albalawi, CEO of travel and tourism agency Arnawa was a child, he saw visitors from across the world visiting his home town of AlUla, founded in the sixth century BC in the Midian region of northwest Saudi Arabia. These visitors were small in number but intrepid, since AlUla had no airport and visiting it involved driving hundreds of kilometres. He was fascinated and proud that anyone would go to such trouble to see the place in which he grew up. Yet despite its history and the natural beauty of its surrounding area it remained relatively unknown.
In 2015, Khalil carried through that pride to co-found Arnawa. Two years later, AlUla’s importance as a site of archeological and cultural interest was established with the foundation of the Royal Commission for AlUla. This was set up to partner with international experts in heritage conservation and preservation and architecture to transform AlUla in the eyes of the world, as well as boost employment opportunities for local people. “It’s our duty to welcome people. It’s a blessing to tell people all about your town,” says Khalil. “We have a huge number of repeat customers. Families, friends, couples – even Saudi visitors – they come to AlUla whenever they want to get away from the big city, to reconnect with nature.”
With AlUla now a popular tourism destination, Arnawa has developed a variety of trips, including to UNESCO World Heritage Site Hegra, as well as adventure tours, such as the Peaks Challenge, in which tourists experience the extraordinary landscape of Medina Province, or the Red Mountain Panorama, an advanced-level hiking trail. “These hikes aren’t just a sporting thing – it’s deeper than that. It’s about things you think you can’t do, but you surprise yourself when you challenge yourself. That’s a good idea for life, not just a trip. Even off-season, we do the trips once a week as a team, whether we have tours or not. It’s healthy for us as individuals.”
Khalil says that he hears from many well-travelled visitors who think that AlUla is very special indeed. “The energy of the place, the inspiration. It deeply touches those who come here.”