Saudi is full of gorgeous natural scenery where tourism and wellness can effortlessly collide. Think untouched islands, turquoise seas, mountains, deserts, oases and even volcanic craters paired with yoga, hiking, meditation, spa treatments, sports and camping.
“I am an advocate for tourism because Saudi has beautiful gems, and combining both wellness and tourism is just the perfect combination,” says Ghalia Almadani. Based in Riyadh, Almadani is a former business strategy professional and corporate wellness consultant who is now a full-time wellness guru. Not only is she a fitness trainer, a registered yoga instructor and a meditation practitioner, but she’s also experienced in planning and leading wellness travel retreats and excursions in Saudi.
Saudi offers a wide range of wellness tourism experiences, from larger projects such as the luxury wellness resort Triple Bay at AMAALA to natural hot springs known for their healing qualities in areas like Al Ahsa. Not to mention the luxury spas found at hotels and resorts across the country and on-the-ground wellness practitioners like Almadani. But what exactly does wellness tourism mean?
According to the Global Wellness Institute, it’s “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being.” It’s easy to see why this idea might be popular — and it is remarkably so. Wellness travel is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry. In Saudi and surrounding countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the pre-pandemic wellness tourism market had been growing at 13.4 percent annually, which is more than double the global average, according to the wellness institute.
Almadani confirms that wellness is being taken very seriously in the country, from the government to corporate entities and tour operators introducing more meaningful trips. Personally and professionally, Almadani is also seriously invested in the idea of wellness.
“I resigned from my full-time job to do wellness fully,” Almadani says of her recent career shift. Her path to wellness began eight years ago, when she returned from her studies in the U.S. and got involved in fitness and wellness activities in Riyadh. “I joined the running community, hiking community, yoga community — just to keep myself, you know, active. This is how my journey started.”
Almadani’s passion for wellness also brought her to new studies in the United Kingdom and India. “Every year, I traveled to India to study something new,” she says. Now, she’s transforming what she has learned into wellness travel experiences for Saudi locals and visitors alike.
Ghalia Almadani has led wellness excursions in Riyadh and Umluj. Photo by Lina Mo.
“I’ve done retreats in Riyadh in different nature sceneries, from soft sand dunes to rocky mountains, combining different wellness elements. So not only yoga, but I would incorporate other wellness activities to design holistic retreats,” says Almadani, who has also planned wellness excursions in Umluj.
She cites the kindness of people in Saudi and its natural scenery for making Arabia an ideal destination for wellness travel. “Saudi Arabia has the most diverse nature sceneries,” she says. “If you want the cold weather, there are the most beautiful camping experiences. You can find affordable experiences to the most luxurious experiences.”
“AMAALA is a very strategic location,” says Almadani. “Just the fact that it’s not tapped and not touched gives [wellness professionals] so much space to do more work in a very raw area. We could be very creative in the design and the experiences and really go outside the box.”
Triple Bay will also offer top-of-the-line diagnostic medical facilities and original treatments made from resources in the local environment.
For luxury spas, hotels are a great place to start. For example, Al Faisaliah Spa by ESPA in Riyadh’s Al Faisaliah Hotel, a perennial winner in the World Spa Awards, offers private spa suites and signature treatments that mix global spa methods with Eastern philosophies. The Durrat Al Riyadh Resort & Spa features a two-story spa that includes salons for men and women and offers candlelit treatments and yoga classes. And in Jeddah, Assila, a Luxury Collection Hotel, boasts in-suite massage services, men’s and women’s lounges, fitness classes, makeup services and more.
Saudi is full of wellness vacation experiences travelers can enjoy right now, and even more exciting wellness travel experiences are in the works. “I think Saudi has the right people to grow wellness,” says Almadani. And with this industry in good health, there’s never been a better time to plan a getaway in Saudi.
—Lisa Zimmermann is a travel writer and editor who has previously written for Club Traveler, Boston magazine, New England Travel, American Airlines and Atlas Magazine.