When the Jordanian government called on investors to develop this stretch of shore on the Red Sea by the historic city of Aqaba, few developers were able to envision its full potential like the Ayla Oasis Development Company. The tender had been opened as part of the country’s ambitious plan for developing its tourism infrastructure, and when the AODC – then part of the Saudi Arabian mother company Astra – presented its project, the race was over. “The seafront was only 235m long,” explains Ayla Managing Director Sahl Marwan Dudin, “so we thought if what we are offering is a seaside experience, let’s bring the sea into the land and expand the shoreline.”
And that is what they did. The feat took nearly ten years, but by 2012 the land had undergone a nearly miraculous transformation. They build seawater lagoons extending over 750,000 square feet, beautifully drawn around artificial islands in which they would then develop the accommodation infrastructure, 180 luxury and mid-range apartments for ownership, a Hyatt Regency Hotel with 300 rooms and a luxury boutique Cloud 7 hotel. “Lifestyle was the guiding principle; how can visitors best enjoy the sea, the mountains, the sun and the services we offer to make their experience irreplaceable,” explains Dudin.
The project was ambitious, but the company had the confidence and the experience in development. In fact, it had already managed many large-scale tourism projects in the region, such as the Intercontinental and Grand Hyatt hotels in Amman and the tourism complex in Petra. “For projects like this to work you have to partner with trustworthy investors and with the best professionals in each specific field, and that is what we did,” says Dudin.
The heart of the oasis is the Marina Village, which offers world-class dining, shopping, recreational and leisure experiences and acts as the creative and social hub of the Ayla Oasis community. Conceived as a place for pleasing the senses and nurturing the body, it also connects visitors to Jordanian traditional culture and heritage by offering local delicacies, crafts and community-based experiences. “There’s nothing like cycling over to the Marina to enjoy a cold drink and a bite after a hard day’s work at the beach,” adds Dudin.
The crown of the oasis is its 27-hole eco-friendly professional golf course, among the company’s major successes, and today a world-renowned venue for golfers.
“We knew the project required important tourism enablers, and so we said: why don’t we make a golf course?” explains Dudin. Designed by the legendary Greg Norman and covering 800,000 square metres of rolling green fairways, it is the first of its kind in the country. The course is complemented by a Golf Club, a state-of-the art venue with Bedouin-inspired architecture that rounds the whole into a truly unique golfing experience.
Yet what Dudin is most proud of is the way in which Ayla Oasis has developed hand in hand with its natural surroundings, and not at the expense of them. “We are very environmentally conscious and have made every effort to partner with those who look after the environment,” he explains. In fact, the company has been working very closely with the Royal Marine Conservation Society, which protects Red Sea ecology and fauna, as Aqaba is home to a large biodiversity of birds and a well-renowned site for birdwatching.
Equally important is its work with the local community. Since its creation, Ayla Oasis has been training young Jordanians in tourism-related services, and with a majority-Jordanian workforce it aims at having more than 1,000 local employees by the end of 2022. “Committing to local communities is one of our main pillars,” says Dudin with pride. “They have been a part of the process since the first day and we will continue developing alongside them because that is how you make a truly healthy community.”