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H.E. Jean-Yves Le Drian

Chairman, French Agency for AlUla Development (AFALULA)


His Excellency Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian is Chairman of the French Agency for AlUla Development (AFALULA) since July 2023. He is also the Personal Representative of the President of the French Republic, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, for Lebanon since June 2023. Prior to this, he held several ministerial positions in the French Government, as Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs from 2017 to 2022, Minister of Defense from 2012 to 2017, and Minister of State for Marine Affairs, attached to the Minister for Infrastructure, Housing,Transport and Space from 1991 to 1992. He was born in 1947 in Lorient, France.

“The AlUla project is at the heart of this ambition. Its aim is to turn the region into a major cultural and tourist attraction, by celebrating its multi-millennial history.”
TBY talks to H.E. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chairman of the French Agency for AlUla Development (AFALULA), about the organisation’s mission, fostering economic development, and cultural exchange in the context of tourism.
Can you provide an overview of The French Agency for AlUla Development’s (AFALULA) mission and its role in supporting the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) in transforming the AlUla region into a global cultural and tourist destination?

France was chosen by Saudi Arabia, as part of the AlUla project, not only for its cultural influence but also for its ability to transform heritage into a world-class tourist offering. In July 2018, was created the French Agency for the Development of AlUla (AFALULA) to co-construct the project with its Saudi partner, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). AFALULA’s mission is to mobilise all French companies and know-how, and has integrated the best experts in all the fields covered by the project: cultural engineering, archaeology, architecture and urban planning, agriculture and botany, tourism and hospitality, education, security, horse-riding, infrastructure, water and environmental management. Its vocation is to support Saudi Arabia in the sustainable economic, tourism and cultural development of AlUla, in order to make this region with its exceptional heritage one of the Kingdom’s cultural capitals and a worldwide tourist destination.

AlUla is known for its rich historical and cultural heritage. How is AFALULA working to preserve and promote these cultural assets while simultaneously fostering tourism and economic development?

With the Vision 2030 plan, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, has embarked on a turning point in favor of modernising the country and diversifying its economy. By focusing on youth, innovation, sustainability and openness to the world, he is strengthening the Kingdom’s role as a driving force in international trade and relations. The AlUla project is at the heart of this ambition. Its aim is to turn the region into a major cultural and tourist attraction, by celebrating its multi-millennial history. AlUla has indeed been a formidable crossroads of civilisations that have left here a heritage of inestimable richness. However, no development initiative in AlUla has been or will be undertaken without first considering the protection and preservation of its cultural heritage. the protection and preservation of what already exists. Our common task is to celebrate the essence of the place without distorting it. Cooperation for AlUla is in fact guided by a strong, joint desire on the part of our two countries to to implement a new model of economic and tourism development, centred on the preservation of the environment and ecosystems, respectful of history, territories and landscapes, and inclusive of the local population.

Cultural exchange is often an integral part of promoting tourism and collaboration is key to achieving this goal. Can you share some examples of partnerships and collaborations that AFALULA has established to promote AlUla as a global destination?

Our ambition is to put AlUla on the world map, as a global tourist destination, but even more specifically as a place of culture. To this end, our two countries have forged numerous partnerships covering a wide range of areas of expertise. Archaeology is a key discipline at AlUla. History, which permeates this place steeped in is the starting point for the project. The various civilisations that have succeeded one another have left a rich heritage that constitutes the soul of the site. The French French teams from the CNRS, Archaïos and Sorbonne University are very active here. The archaeological excavations at the Dadan, Oasis, Old City and Khaybar and Hegra sites have make the region the archaeological epicenter of the Near and Middle East. On 4 December 2021, the Villa Hégra project was born out of the signing of a second intergovernmental agreement between France and the Kingdom on the creation of a prestigious cultural institution in AlUla dedicated to the arts and creativity. This major intercultural exchange project seals the artistic dialogue between France and Saudi Arabia and, more broadly, between European and Arab cultures. Villa Hégra is the symbol of a meeting between the heart of the Arab world and the creative spirit of France. Another highly symbolic flagship project is the launch, in 2021, of the residency programmes, which bring international artists to AlUla every year. Residency programmes, which welcome international artists to AlUla every year. These artists from all over the world, these artists in residence immerse themselves in the place, producing works that are shaped by its history, culture, people and materials, its history, its culture, its people and its aspirations for the future. -Still in the field of the arts, a major agreement has been signed with the Centre Pompidou for the management of museums, which will lead to the creation of a museum of contemporary art in AlUla art museum in AlUla. The partnership signed with the French school FERRANDI Paris also covers the creation of a training college in culinary arts, hotel management and tourism (ICTH). This college will offer diploma courses to meet the priority needs of local players in the restaurant, tourism and hotel industries: around 14,000 new jobs will need to be filled in the coming years in AlUla. The school will provide on-the-spot support to ensure the implementation of quality standards and the educational excellence of the institution, while respecting Saudi educational standards. Finally, the signing of major contracts with the French groups Alstom, RATP Dev, 3DS and Thales – to name but a few – testifies to our shared desire to offer AlUla intelligent and innovative solutions in the fields of mobility, safety and regional planning for the benefit of AlUla’s residents and international visitors. These partnerships are also a reminder of the excellence of our French companies in cutting-edge technologies designed to facilitate the sustainable management of territories, to create responsible environments and unique living environments for all.



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