Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Virgin Group Founder Reviews Remarkable Visit to Saudi Arabia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Branson wrote on his visit it to Saudi Arabia, calling it “a country where great change is taking place step by step.” (Photos courtesy: Virgin)

Billionaire and worldwide entrepreneur Richard Branson visited Saudi Arabia, becoming one of the few first to take advantage of the Kingdom’s growing opportunities in light of sweeping national reform being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Kingdom Vision 2030.

The business magnate also positively reviewed the major step the Kingdom took forward when allowing women to be issued driving licences.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there’s nothing like getting a first-hand impression. It was quite an experience to be there on the day that women were given the right to drive for the first time,” said Branson.

The international philanthropist also said that incremental reforms carried out by the Saudi Royalty play greatly into showing how committed it is on moving the country forward.

“This was a huge announcement and a much-welcomed sign of progress and one welcomed by every woman we met. It’s one of many incremental reforms driven by Saudi-Arabia’s young and charismatic Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who, with his father, is committed to moving his country into the modern world, and bringing its citizens with him.”

One of the Kingdom’s recently announced development projects is the Red Sea Project.The international tourism venture in Saudi Arabia which Crown Prince Mohammed announced will attract local and global investments thus contributing an average of 15 billion SAR a year to the country’s gross domestic production.

The Red Sea is considered one of the best diving locations in the world due to the diversity of marine organisms and the environmentally protected coral reefs and the appropriate water temperatures.

“We were taken to the Red Sea, where a huge project to turn a giant lagoon into a beautiful tourism destination is underway. Covering more than 50 islands between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh, the project will also create as many as 35,000 jobs in an area remote from major cities,” said Branson.

“Standing on the islands, we could see turtles pulling themselves in and out of the water to lay their eggs, while eagle rays and dugongs swam past. It is a truly unspoilt ocean environment, possibly one of the last marine wonders of the world, and given the right protections, it could stay that way for decades to come,” he added.

Branson,who also is the founder of the Virgin Group, expressed how remarkable Madai’n Saleh heritage sites are, claiming they outshine Petra’s historical ruins in Jordan.

“We visited the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mada’in Saleh. I’ve been fortunate to visit Petra in Jordan, which is a ruin from the same ancient civilization, but this was even more stunning. The surrounding mountains are a work of art themselves, with breathtaking colors and 131 awe-inspiring rock-cut tombs. I offered to arrange for some Virgin Balloons to go to the UNESCO World Heritage site, it would be so spectacular to see it from a hot air balloon.”

Branson received the well-known warm hospitality the Kingdom enjoys. Concluding his travel journal article, he said that “it will be wonderful to attract visitors to marvel at the beauty of Saudi Arabia, and get to know its people too.”