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Saudi Arabia To Launch Dream Of The Desert, The Middle East’s First Luxury Train

posted on: Feb 20, 2024

By: Masha Lukovenko / Arab America Contributing Writer

A brand-new luxury train is in the works, aiming to join the pantheon of iconic and legendary rail journeys and classic trains like the Royal Scotsman, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and Africa’s Rovos Rail. Dream of the Desert is the name of the tour, which promises to be luxurious, eye opening and enlightening as it winds across Saudi Arabia. It’s also the Middle East’s first luxury train.

The 800-mile journey will start in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh and head northwest toward the Jordanian border. Long sections of picturesque deserts and UNESCO World Heritage archeological sites will be traversed on the trip. The province of Al-Qassim, the city of Ha’il, and the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve in Al Jouf are among the highlights. The trip will come to an end at Al-Qurayat, which is close to the Jordanian border. One or two-night journeys will be available for passengers to schedule.

The luxury train is a partnership between the state-owned railway company Saudi Arabia Railways (SAR) and the Italian hospitality company Arsenale Group that is said to be worth 200 million Saudi riyals ($53.32 million).The Arsenale Group is an Italian luxury brand company. It has launched Soho House Roma, Hotel Santavenere Maratea, the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita train in Italy, and three luxury hotels that will debut in 2024: Orient Express La Minerva, Rome; Orienet Express Palazzo Dona Giovannelli Venice; and Abbazia di Spinetto in Tuscany. The company refers to the Dream of the Desert rail journey as “luxury train cruising.”

Dream of the Desert will have 40 cars and will carry 82 passengers, with a fine dining restaurant and a lounge bar, among other amenities. Arsenale says that the design is inspired by “Saudi style and tradition” and that the trains will be “fully-customized” and are already under construction. The train is tentatively scheduled to finish production in the summer of 2025 and begin running by the end of 2025.

Only in 2019 did the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia start to accept foreign tourists after being closed off to Westerners for a long time. In an attempt to draw tourists, it has already spent billions of dollars, most notably at NEOM, a brand-new urban development region that will be constructed entirely in the northwest Tabuk Province, east of Egypt, north of the Red Sea, and across the Gulf of Aqaba. The Red Sea island of Sindalah and the NEOM mountains’ Trojena ski resort are examples of developments. The government intends to invest over $800 billion in tourism development over the next ten years in an effort to host an astounding 70 million foreign visitors annually by 2030.

Dream of the Desert represents Saudi Arabia’s attempt to enter the luxury train industry while simultaneously using the prevailing travel fads of slow travel, cultural immersion, and experiential travel. One of the most romantic travel experiences is by luxury train, which transports you to the 1920s, 1930s, and the world of Agatha Christie mysteries. It might contribute to improving the nation’s standing and country’s image abroad and internationally. 

The plan by Saudi Arabia to join the luxury train industry coincides with the global rise in demand for high-speed trains and opulent “rail cruises.” Millions, if not billions, of dollars have been spent by several nations on new infrastructure as consumers look for more environmentally friendly options to short-distance driving and/or congested roadways.

U.S. President Joe Biden has committed $30 billion for national rail projects and improvements, and Reuters reports that France intends to bolster its rail network by allocating approximately €100 billion ($106 billion) for rail travel by 2040.

“Train travel represents the greener choice of transportation, enhancing trips to great cities as well as small-medium sized locations with appealing cultural sites and scenery,” Luigi Corradi, CEO and General Manager of Trenitalia, part of Italy’s state railway company Ferrovie dello Stato, said in a statement at the time.

About a year after “Orient Express – La Dolce Vita,” an initiative between the Accor Group and the Arsenale Group, the Saudi service is expected to debut. Reservations for Dream of the Desert are scheduled to open at the end of 2024. Visit Dream of the Desert for more information. 

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