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Thursday, 24th September 2020
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A transforming landscape

Over the last decade, the Middle East developed into a global hub for tourism and leisure. While Dubai led the charge for the better part of the decade, breaking world records with a host of new attractions, Saudi Arabia stunned the world as the kingdom drew 2019 to a close by opening its doors to international travellers. Several Arabian cities not only transformed into bustling hubs – full of five-star hotels, sprawling malls and modern attractions – but they also cleverly positioned themselves as key links connecting the east and the west. With this successful facelift, it’s easy to assume that the region is keen to rest on its laurels. But with a World Expo set to take place for the first time on Middle Eastern soil in 2021, clearly, this is only the beginning. New attractions continue to take shape all over the region as we move into another decade, further transforming the tourism landscape, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Elevating the Emirates

In an emirate known for its love of world records, Ain Dubai is set to be one of the city’s biggest launches of
2020. When it opens later this year, it will become the tallest observation wheel in the world. The icon stands at a record height of 250 metres on the man-made island of Bluewaters and is already more than 80 metres taller than the current record holder – the High Roller in Las Vegas. It is also almost double the
height of The London Eye, which is just 135 metres. Meanwhile, on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, the on going construction of what looks like a giant eye has already caught the world’s attention. Set to open later this year, the Museum of the Future will serve as a hub for innovation and a testbed for emerging technologies.

Upon completion, the sleek and stylish structure will stand encased in stainless steel and adorned with Arabic calligraphy. But the experiences waiting inside will be far from a typical visit to the museum. Three of the seven floors of the museum will be dedicated to immersive experiences that will showcase life in the future with a focus on several sectors, including government services, healthcare and food security.

In keeping with the need of our times, the severity of climate change will feature heavily, with displays highlighting what the world might look like if carbon emissions are not curbed. A short drive from the museum, the Mohammed bin Rashid Library along Dubai Creek is almost complete. When it opens its doors this year, it will become the biggest library in the region with over 4.5 million books. The seven-storey structure is equally remarkable. Its design resembles an open book sitting on a traditional lectern which holds the Quran.

Creek Tower will see the emirate defeat its own record for the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa. The star attraction of the six-kilometre-long Dubai Creek Harbour project, the skyscraper is expected to be completed in 2020. The tower will feature the world’s highest observation deck offering 360-degree views of the landscape. Designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, its structure is influenced by the natural forms of the lily and evokes the shape of a minaret, a distinctive architectural feature in Islamic culture. On the UAE capital’s shores, Abu Dhabi will reinforce its status as the new superpower on the global art scene as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum continue to take shape during the first half of the decade. While the former will serve as a meeting point of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Western cultures, the latter will document the life of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan while offering an insight into the natural and human history of the UAE.

Kingdom calling

Saudi Arabia is a country changing at quite a speed. After opening its doors to tourists in 2019, the world’s
eyes have turned to the kingdom and it has plenty to show off across each of its provinces. Not only have the country’s hidden gems and varied landscapes found their way onto many travellers’ bucket lists, but there is also plenty to be marvelled at in the kingdom’s cities.

One such attraction grabbing the headlines is the Red Sea Project on the country’s west coast. Being built
across 30,000 square kilometres, it will comprise a natural archipelago of pristine islands when complete. The new landmark will give travellers access to an untouched coastline spanning 200 kilometres as well as a vast desert landscape filled with mountains, archaeological treasures and a dormant volcano.

Expected to attract visitors all year round, thanks to its tropical charm, it is being designed to offer a mix of both worlds with a strong focus on heritage, culture and conservation. The second most anticipated project in the kingdom, Qiddiya is expected to be Saudi Arabia’s new entertainment, sports and cultural destination. The first phase is set to open to the public in 2023 and will include more than 45 individual projects featuring a theme park, a water park, a motorsports centre as well as art venues. But the theme park will not just be any attraction. For the first time in the Middle East, tourists can enjoy the thrills of the iconic Six Flags in Qiddiya, instead of booking a long-haul flight to the United States. The new attraction is also set to become home to the longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world, ideal for adventure seekers looking for next-level thrills.

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