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RIYADH: The French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, shared his 18-month experience in the Kingdom and his vision to strengthen relations, improve economic opportunities, share cultures, develop tourism and promote rapprochement between the two countries.
Pouille is keen to introduce France to the rich cultural heritage, tradition and picturesque natural landscapes of the Kingdom. He hopes that “the French will also be able to discover the treasures and beauties of Saudi Arabia”.
And, similarly, he wants Saudis to experience French tourism and hospitality.
Pouille believes that Saudi Arabia has three distinct characteristics: hospitality, with 70% of the population under the age of 35, and its status as an ambitious country. “It’s very stimulating for an ambassador to be in a young, dynamic and ambitious country,” he told Arab News in French.
The French envoy highlighted the fact that AlUla is becoming a phenomenal tourist destination and the Franco-Saudi partnership signed in 2018 for the sustainable tourism development of the region.
“A few days ago, we celebrated the first three years of the implementation of this partnership, and above all we attracted, with the Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, the French Minister of Culture and the Saudi Minister of Investment. Khaled Al-Faleh very promising prospects for this partnership in the coming years,” he said, adding, “I have no doubt that AlUla will become a global tourist destination.”
Puglia said archaeological cooperation between the two countries dates back 20 years, when in 2002 a mission by Laila Nehme explored the Nabataean civilization at AlUla. Since then, and after many successful attempts, Puglia said: “We currently have five missions to unearth in the AlUla region – the secrets of the pre-Nabataean kingdoms of Dadam and Lihyan, the Khaybar region, the old city of ‘AlUla and its oasis. ”
The tourism development of AlUla aims to attract 2 million visitors per year by 2030.
Beyond archaeological discoveries, another strategy is to develop sustainable agriculture and urbanism, and renewable energies, thus creating a complete ecosystem.
Pouille revealed that several interested French companies have signed contracts with the Royal Commission for AlUla.
He also welcomed the agreement signed last year with the Cordon Bleu Institute to open an institute in Riyadh, and hailed the establishment of the Ferrandi school – one of the largest gastronomic schools in the world – in AlUla.
In addition to AlUla, similar development in other regions like Taif and Asir will also attract tourists in the near future.
“I discovered a country of great wealth. It has ancient cities and modern megalopolises. For all these reasons, I believe that Saudi Arabia has very significant tourism potential,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia is also home to mountains 3,000 meters high with vegetation and rain for much of the year, not to mention the 1,400 kilometers of coastline along the Red Sea, full of corals and of an extraordinary fauna. The Farasan Islands are fantastic and NEOM has an extraordinary ecological heritage.
“These destinations are the value that tourists will be looking for,” said Pouille.
“France, the world’s leading tourist country, took decades to get there. Saudi Arabia, with its dynamism, will achieve this in a few years,” he added.
The French Ambassador said that Vision 2030 is a very broad agenda that concerns economy, culture, heritage and digital transformation, and that France sees itself as a partner in this process.
The French Vision 2030 was launched a few months ago and shares many of the same ambitions as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which was launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016.
“It wants to respond to the same challenges, such as the energy transition which can lead to the preservation of the environment and biodiversity, and the digital transition which must be able to be accompanied by economic growth and not massive unemployment”, a- he declared.
According to Pouille, France can play a role in the development of new projects within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030.
French President Emmanuel Macron, during his visit to Jeddah in December, where he met the crown prince, said he wanted to establish a comprehensive partnership with the Kingdom, but which is not limited to the political, military and economic fields alone.
“The president’s visit has opened up great prospects thanks to the agreements signed in the fields of tourism, culture, digital and space,” he said, adding that the two countries will embark hand in hand in hand around 2030.
For the sake of mutual interest, a Franco-Saudi business forum was also held alongside the visit.
Cultural rapprochement is a theme very dear to the heart of the ambassador, who wants to be a “cultural smuggler”, because he considers diplomacy beyond governments and economic interests, and believes in building bridges between peoples.
After the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pouille hopes that in 2022 things will look promising as many Saudis have found their way back to France, and vice versa. “The month of La Francophonie (marked in March worldwide) is a very important month for our cultural activities in the Kingdom,” said Pouille.
“It’s true that Saudi Arabia is not a French-speaking country, but it has 200,000 French-speaking residents. We are working with our partners to build a program of cultural, educational and musical events in March. Conferences and exhibitions will be organized to celebrate not only the French language, but also diversity and multiculturalism through the preservation of languages and cultural identities,” he said.
He added: “I remain hopeful that the French language will be reintroduced in Saudi public schools as it was in the 70s and 80s, because French is a global language: the second most learned language on the planet and the third business language. We hope to create more branches and more language centers to generalize the learning of the French language in the Kingdom.
At the end of the interview, Pouille showed three works of calligraphy by Saudi artists in his garden at La Résidence de France in Riyadh.