As the country gears up to become a tourist destination, Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) expects to play a big role in boosting visitors to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s national geological organisation has identified five caves that they will launch as ecotourism destinations this year, part of the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 tourism initiative.
‘We are ready’, Mahmoud Al Shanti, director of the Saudi Geological Survey’s Cave Studies, told Lonely Planet News. ‘We are now choosing easy access points for tourists, but won’t announce the names and locations of the caves yet’. Adopting the ‘leave no trace; take nothing but pictures’ motto, SGS is remaining tight-lipped on the whereabouts of the subterranean sites. ‘People go inside and destroy them’, Al Shanti noted. ‘We have had some bad experiences’.
A vocal conservationist, Al Shanti explained that these natural national treasures and their surrounding environs are important and fragile ecosystems, and they must to be managed and protected to ensure the survival of Saudi’s endemic wildlife, including bats, hyenas, foxes and owls.
Located some 200km north of the capital of Riyadh, the As Sulb Karst plateau contains the largest concentration of limestone caves in the country. SGS estimates that once opened, the attractions could receive more than 1000 visitors a day because of their proximity to the capital city.
As SGS works to make the caves accessible and fun points of interest, they are also training a select group of tour guides and planning to increase services in these isolated areas before the tourism influx. ‘These are remote places and the villages must be ready to receive tourists’, Al Shanti remarked, as these small villages could soon be inundated with cavers, spelunkers and geology enthusiasts from around the globe – which he hopes will provide jobs and increased revenue.
By Elizabeth Branca