Come back home

Al Ula gets a hot air balloon experience in the Metaverse

The Royal Commission for Al Ula’s (RCU) recent debut in the world of the Metaverse invited visitors to discover and explore a to-scale and completely immersive 3D model of Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza – the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the exciting, and globally accessible, digital realm. 

Now, RCU has gone one step further by harnessing the Metaverse’s incredible adaptability and capability to engage with virtual tourists in exciting new dimensions with the launch of an interactive hot air balloon experience. The next thrilling phase of RCU’s Metaverse journey, the experience launches alongside the latest edition of the annual Al Ula Hot Air Balloon Festival, in cooperation with the Saudi Arabian Hot Air Ballooning Federation.

Offering online visitors unrivalled and hyper-realistic 360-degree views of Hegra’s most famous landmark, the hot air balloon experience combines all the thrills of soaring into the skies above the digital desert with unique experiences designed to boost playability and raise excitement levels. In addition, RCU is providing a limited number of balloon riders a chance to receive a NFT wearable which will unlock future experiences on the metaverse.

Combing the fun of a no holds barred video adventure with the awe-inspiring spectacle of a real-life hot air balloon ride above Hegra, the experience is the ideal addition to RCU’s expansive and innovative entry into the Metaverse, allowing it to connect with a diverse spectrum of online visitors of all ages.  

Created in the vast and rapidly expanding digital landscape of Decentraland in collaboration with renowned global creative consultancy frog, the virtual Hegra offers expanded accessibility to digital tourists, who can explore its unique features from anywhere in the world.  

Part of the Capgemini Group, frog was appointed to develop, deliver and facilitate Hegra’s Metaverse debut while fully supporting RCU’s smart strategy to propel innovation and embrace the latest advances in technology through the comprehensive regeneration of AlUla County. 

A trip to Hegra in the Metaverse is impressive, inspiring, and mesmerising. Visitors can take a 360-degree tour of AlUla’s most famous and imposing tomb, set amongst a realistic rendering of the desert landscape.  

Providing a more accessible experience than what is possible in real life, Decentraland tourists can immerse themselves in Hegra’s history by stepping through the tomb’s imposing doorway.  

Hegra in the Metaverse marks a major step forward in RCU’s journey of innovation – a sprint into the future of experiential tourism that ensures AlUla is ready to welcome visitors in a rapidly emerging digital future. 

As RCU’s presence in the Metaverse evolves, Hegra will play host to an eclectic calendar of events created to digitally introduce the world to the wonders of AlUla, making the rich culture, heritage, and traditions of north-west Arabia more accessible to more people than ever before. 

Information portals will direct visitors to different aspects of AlUla’s heritage, expanding awareness of its 200,000 years of shared human history while radically reimagining its rich tradition of sharing knowledge for the 21st Century and beyond as part of KSA’s Vision 2030 programme to empower technological transformation and innovation.

Ahmed H Daoud, Acting Executive Director of Innovation at RCU, said: “RCU’s debut in the Metaverse was the first step on a journey of discovery that will, ultimately, reveal new and exciting worlds to help expand and enhance AlUla’s connection with a new generation of technology-led global audiences. 

“Hegra’s presence in the Metaverse greatly elevates the enormous thrill visitors feel when visiting the physical site in AlUla through interactive experiences that push the frontiers of what can be imagined through digital encounters. The addition of a new hot air balloon experience means Metaverse tourists can observe Hegra in new dimensions, giving digital explorers access to one of the world’s most treasured landmarks in ways that expands what is possible in real life.” 

The hot air balloon experience follows last month’s Saudi Tour activation on the Metaverse, which allowed digital visitors to watch live broadcasts Hegra.

UNESCO designated Hegra as KSA’s first World Heritage Site in 2008. Located 20km north of AlUla town, the site covers 52 hectares and features 110 tombs amid stunning rock formations, with the Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza the largest tomb at 22 metres tall. Referred to as the ‘lonely castle’ because of its distance from other monuments, it is the largest preserved site of the ancient Nabataean civilization south of Petra in Jordan.