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Saudi seeks gold in the Aseer hills – for tourism and mining

Young men in Aseer wearing its traditional floral crowns. The region's industrial, tourism and mining sectors are growing fast Eric Lafforgue /Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect
Young men in Aseer wearing its traditional floral crowns. The region's industries are growing fast
  • Industrial zone hits 95% occupancy
  • PIF financing multiple projects
  • Mineral deposits estimated at $64bn

Hidden in the heart of Saudi Arabia’s largest mountain range, the Aseer province was largely unknown to the West until the 1950s.

The region’s remoteness helped to preserve its distinctive culture, with early visitors offered crowns of red and orange blooms for sale by its so-called Flower Men.

Today tourists are an important part of the kingdom’s strategy for the southwestern region close to the border with Yemen – but manufacturing and mineral deposits are, too.

The region’s first industrial city, managed by the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, has reached an occupancy rate of more than 95 percent, the government agency said on Monday.

Spanning an area of 2.7 million sq m, Aseer Industrial City has 178 industrial, investment and logistics contracts in place. It has attracted investments totalling SAR2 billion ($533 billion) and has a workforce of more than 31,000 people.

“The Aseer region is a rising star in Saudi Arabia,” Vijay Valecha, chief investment officer at Century Financial, told AGBI.

It is “positioned to flourish economically and become a popular tourist destination with the backing of the Saudi government and private investors”, he added.

The region also has big mining potential. The Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources estimates that deposits in the region are worth $64 billion. 

More than 30 different minerals can be found there, according to the ministry. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Abha estimates that gold accounts for the largest amount, followed by copper, tungsten, zinc ore and silver.

Roads and villages in the mountains of Aseer. The province is thought to have valuable mineral deposits Eric Lafforgue/Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect
Roads and villages in the mountains of Aseer. The province is thought to have valuable mineral deposits

The government wants to make the province a “haven for adventure seekers”, according to Invest Saudi, its investment promotion platform.

Aseer is looking to attract foodies, too – it has been named World Region of Gastronomy 2024.

PIF’s portfolio in the region

Last month Seven, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund, announced plans for a $354 million entertainment destination in Abha, the region’s capital.

A masterplan for a luxury mountain tourism destination called Soudah Peaks is being developed by another subsidiary of the sovereign wealth fund.

A third PIF-owned company, Ardara, is planning a 2.5 million sq m development called AlWadi, in Abha.

All three will contribute to the objectives of the Aseer Development Strategy announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021. Its targets include catering for more than 10 million domestic and international visitors by 2030.

The Aseer Investment Company, set up in December 2022, serves as PIF’s investment arm in the region. 

It aims to unlock opportunities for domestic and international investors across sectors including tourism, healthcare, sports, education and food.

As Valecha puts it, Aseer “has unrealised potential for expansion – and presents both a literal and figurative goldmine”.

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