Discover Saudi part I: Kingdom lifts veil on tourism gems and treasures

March 13, 2018 9:44 am

Saudi is planning to turn its massive land space, untouched sands, and clear blue waters into dream projects that could attract millions and create jobs in the hundreds of thousands.

What was unconceivable just last year is becoming reality on the ground with investments worth billions of dollars making their way into real estate geared for both tourism and business.

Related: Egypt commits 1,000 sqkm in south Sinai to Saudi’s $100bn NEOM

NEOM- The land of dreams

NEOM, a $500bn 100% renewable city by the Red Sea extends across three countries, and  seeking to become a hub that brings along the most effective minds and firms to transcend the boundaries of innovation to the very best levels of human civilization.

NEOM is a mega city development located in the northwest of the Kingdom and includes land within the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, extended along with Aqaba Gulf and 468 km of coastline with beaches and coral reefs, as well as mountains up to 2,500 m high

It will provide many tourism and development opportunities over a total area of around 26,500 km2, backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), local as well as international investors.

In February 2018, the Saudi government begun to award contracts for the development of a huge business zone in NEOM, asking local construction companies to build five palaces there, for the king, crown prince and other senior royals, Reuters reported.

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NEOM features untouched beaches and pristine islands facing snow covered peaks during the winter.

It also has a picturesque and colossal desert to provide just the right panoramic views.

NEOM is ideally located to benefit from wind, solar and alternative energy sources, towards making it 100% renewable.

On the sidelines of the World Youth Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi praised the project as a major tourist destination.

Vice President of the National Tourism Committee Abdulrahman Al-Saneh said in an interview “The beaches are 90% geared for tourism attraction in summer, the mountains facing these are snow-covered in winter, its summer heat is moderate and 10 ° C lower than other Gulf cities.”

“In addition, 10% of global trade flows through the nearby Red Sea, a link to the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa and anyone from those continents can reach NEOM in 8 hours or less, and in the future will be shorter than that.”

Read: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed is the changing face of Saudi Leadership- Part I

50 virgin islands

Unrelated to NEOM, Saudi wants to turn hundreds of kilometers of its Red Sea coastline into a global tourism destination governed by laws “on par with international standards” as part of its plan to transform the economy and reduce its reliance on oil, said Bloomberg.

The project will cover 50 islands and 34,000 sqkms between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh aimed at luring “luxury travelers from around the globe,” according to an official statement.

It will be developed by the kingdom’s PIF with first work expected in two years.

Bloomberg said questions are likely to arise on how acceptable the plan is to the kingdom’s influential religious establishment.

“Bringing sun-seekers to Saudi beaches could transform a tourism industry that relies almost solely on Muslim pilgrims,” it said.

Bloomberg reports that tourists will either not require a visa or will be able to obtain one online.

“One of the documents referred to the project as a “semi-autonomous” area governed “by independent laws and a regulatory framework developed and managed by a private committee,” a sign that it could ease strict rules applied elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.

Read: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed is the changing face of Saudi Leadership- Part II

Saudi is already relaxing rules on entertainment, lifting a ban on movie going, encouraging a film industry to find its footing and allowing Saudi women to attend sports venues.

Concerts, dance shows and even film screenings have drawn thousands of people over the past year.

By 2030, the kingdom aims to double household spending on recreation to 6%.

Creating separate areas for foreigners with looser rules also isn’t entirely new to Saudi Arabia, according to Bloomberg.

“The most famous, the Saudi Aramco compound in Dhahran, is designed like an American suburb. On the gender-mixed campus of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, attended by Saudis, women can drive and wear what they want,” Bloomberg said.

The project will create as many as 35,000 jobs “once it’s up and running” and contribute $4bn to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product, according to an official statement.

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Project phases

The initial groundbreaking of the Saudi islands is expected in the third quarter of 2019 with the initial phase carrying a milestone towards the fourth quarter of 2022, and this includes “the development of hotels and luxury residential units, as well as all logistical infrastructure, including air, land, and sea transport hubs,” according to the statement.

Visitors will have access to the ancient ruins at Mada’in Saleh, a relic of the same ancient civilization that built the better-known city of Petra in Jordan and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Watch video: Why Saudi Aramco IPO will be delayed to 2019

 Virgin Group

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson will invest in a Red Sea project that aims to turn 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourism destinations, the Saudi government announced.

Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said, in what officials called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism”.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history, and I’ve always felt that there’s nothing like getting a first-hand impression,” Branson said in a statement released by the Saudi information ministry.


Hadi Khatib
By Hadi Khatib
Hadi Khatib is a business editor with more than 15 years' experience delivering news and copy of relevance to a wide range of audiences. If newsworthy and actionable, you will find this editor interested in hearing about your sector developments and writing about it.