In a groundbreaking move to revolutionize Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) launched with us and our partner ARtGlass the Middle East’s first wearable XR tour, thrilling travelers from around the world to the ancient archaeological site of Hegra. The 2-hour experience combining Augmented and Virtual reality elements on transparent smartglasses emerges from the country’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan to sustainably host 100 million annual tourist visits by decade’s end.
Highlighting the kickoff of the Ancient Kingdoms Festival, the Hegra Alive experience transports tourists back in time to the heart of a thriving Nabataean civilization. Practically undisturbed for 2,000 years, Hegra boasts 111 monumental tombs and massive ceremonial spaces carved into solid rock. The immersive touring experience combines 3D and 360-degree visuals with compelling audio, enabling guests to explore the stunning landscape overlaid with interactive digital “magic.” With transparent lenses seamlessly blending the real and virtual worlds, visitors can simultaneously enjoy the natural beauty of Hegra while being immersed in new layers of its storied history. Visitors gain virtual access to otherwise restricted areas, brought to life through holograms of historic figures, digitally repositioned artifacts, and interactive stories. The tour reveals mysteries of this once-mighty cosmopolitan civilization, a contemporary of the ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian empires, and master of international trade routes.
RCU tapped ARtGlass for its track record as the world’s first company to bring wearable AR touring to scale, its technologies enabling long-form experiences at iconic sites with millions of visitors. ARtGlass Cofounder and CEO Greg Werkheiser said: “This region’s landscape is home to at least 125,000 years of human history. ARtGlass is thrilled to reveal its stories as rediscovered treasures to be shared with the world. Only by learning from our past do we build a better future.”
While the trailblazing offering is expected to draw more guests, ARtGlass technologies advance sustainable tourism principles by engaging visitors in profound ways while avoiding physical harm to a site’s sensitive features.
ARtGlass paired its powerful code-free TourBuilder software suite and patented XR storytelling strategies with partners NOUS Digital and BES Studios for content development and production support, and Epson for hardware. The team collaborated with Saudi and international cultural experts to ensure authentic narratives.
"We are on the cusp of a transformative era in heritage tourism and this challenging and rewarding project places the Middle East on its cutting edge,” said NOUS Digital CEO Raphael Schneeberger.
Forty Rawis (tour guides) lead guests on the vintage automobile and walking tour experience, weaving together the XR elements and their own insights to deliver a tour that is both technologically dazzling and personal. Lexi Cleveland, ARtGlass Executive Vice President, remarked, “It is fascinating to watch as the Rawis weave together the threads of heritage and innovation. At their command, the glasses reveal the unseen, immersing guests in visions and stories of the past. And, because each Rawi has a unique perspective, no two journeys are alike.”