Ad Diriyah a ‘jewel’ of Saudi Arabia, its revival key to Kingdom’s future, says project chief

The historic district of At-Turaif in Ad Diriyah, once home to the Saudi royal family. (Ziyad Al-Arfaj/Arab News)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Ad Diriyah a ‘jewel’ of Saudi Arabia, its revival key to Kingdom’s future, says project chief

  • Tourism mogul Jerry Inzerillo talks to Arab News about the megaproject to restore the UNESCO site
  • “We have specific instructions to open several assets for 2019. These are very exciting plans.”

RIYADH: Gerard “Jerry” Inzerillo, tourism mogul and CEO of the Ad Diriyah Gate Development Authority, gave an exclusive interview to Arab News in the town’s historical At-Turaif district.

Ad Diriyah, located on the outskirts of Riyadh and once the home of the Saudi royal family, temporarily opened its gates as the ABB Formula E racing championship took place a few kilometers away. 

The serenity of the location allows visitors to experience the historical significance of At-Turaif. Efforts to restore its magnificence are clearly evident.

Restoring At-Turaif and Ad Diriyah is one of the many megaprojects underway to boost tourism in the Kingdom, in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan.

Why Ad Diriyah? Because you can’t have a future without a past. That’s where the crown prince’s brilliance lies.

“It’s a magical time in the Kingdom. What all these projects will offer people from all over the world is fabulous,” said Inzerillo in his Brooklyn accent.

“With all that vision, boldness and welcome, you want to go to the soul, the pearl, the jewel of the Kingdom, and that’s the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ad Diriyah and At-Turaif.”

When visiting Ad Diriyah 19 years ago, Inzerillo admitted that he was slightly let down by what he saw.

He understood its historical significance, and 19 years later, with the manpower of hundreds of Saudis who believe in the preservation of their country’s heritage, Inzerillo can see the fruits of their labor. “The future can only be anchored with the values of the past,” he said.

The UNESCO site has undergone 15 years of restoration, bringing it back to life. Working alongside the crown prince, Inzerillo believes that Mohammed bin Salman’s insistence on preserving the authenticity and soul of Ad Diriyah and At-Turaif is vital. “There’s only one Ad Diriyah,” said Inzerillo.

Everything that will be built around the historical site will be made of mud and in keeping with the architecture of Saudi Arabia’s central Najd region. 

“To preserve the authenticity of the area, the crown prince stressed that he wants street energy, human interaction, laughter, food, beverages and music. There will be a major focus on pedestrian traffic,” Inzerillo said.

“Many people don’t realize that there’s 1,000 years of history in Saudi Arabia, and At-Turaif has 274 years of history on its own.”

He said he can see the pace of progress in the tourism sector. For years, the Kingdom has welcomed millions of people through Makkah and Madinah, but Inzerillo believes that it is time for Riyadh to shine.  

“It’s now time to come to Riyadh, a thriving international global city that’s on a fast track to 8 million people,” he said.

“It’ll be the stop-off point for the region. It’s where the region started. Arabia started at Ad Diriyah,” he added.

“I’ve been in tourism for 50 years. I’ve worked with some of the best heads of state in the world. The crown prince is so smart and full of love for this project,” Inzerillo said.

“We have specific instructions to open several assets for 2019. These are very exciting plans. We’re going to be opening major restaurants, retail outlets and hotels for 2020,” he added.

“The crown prince will announce the masterplan in the next few months. It’s bold and exciting. Nowhere in the world has the level of authenticity, the authentic mud that At-Turaif has.”

The project’s success will be due to the crown prince’s watchful eye and hands-on approach, Inzerillo said.  

It will include museums, academic institutions, “edutainment” facilities, 11 hotels, several hundred shops and 100 restaurants. 

They will all overlook the Wadi Hanifah valley in Najd, surrounded by 1 million date palm trees and another 1 million that are expected to be planted.

“Why Ad Diriyah? Because you can’t have a future without a past,” said Inzerillo. “That’s where the crown prince’s brilliance lies.”


Huge expectations from Saudi crown prince’s Korea visit

Updated 46 min 21 sec ago
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Huge expectations from Saudi crown prince’s Korea visit

  • The export of South Korea’s APR-1400 nuclear reactor technology to Saudi Arabia is high on the agenda

SEOUL: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday to discuss wider economic ties between the two countries, according to the presidential office.
The crown prince’s visit to South Korea is the first by an heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter since then-Crown Prince Abdullah’s tour in 1998. The crown prince will also attend the G20 Summit next week in Osaka, Japan.
The two-day visit is expected to deliver key agreements with South Korea in a variety of industrial fields, including cooperation on nuclear reactor and defense technologies.
“Saudi Arabia, a key ally of South Korea, is the biggest oil supplier to our government and the largest economic partner among the Middle Eastern countries,” presidential spokeswoman Koh Min-jung told reporters.
“Both leaders are expected to discuss detailed measures to expand bilateral cooperation beyond the traditional areas of construction and energy to the sectors of information and technology, nuclear energy, green cars, health, public service and exchange of human resources.”
The crown prince and his economic advisers are scheduled to have luncheon with South Korean business leaders after his summit with President Moon, she said.
Business leaders attending the luncheon will include Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics; Chung Eui-sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group; Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group, and Koo Kwang-mo, chairman of LG Group.
A Samsung spokesman, who declined to be named, told Arab News that his company has a package of business proposals to present to Saudi Arabia.
“We’re not sure at the moment what business elements the Kingdom wants, but we have a variety of business packages that can meet the Saudi Vision 2030 requirements, ranging from engineering, procurement and construction to information and communications technology, and artificial intelligence,” the spokesman said.
Hyundai Motor Group was cautious about revealing potential business projects with Riyadh.
“We’ll see what’s happening. We have high expectations about potential business cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” a Hyundai Motor spokesman said, while asking not to be named.
The export of South Korea’s APR-1400 nuclear reactor technology to Saudi Arabia is high on the agenda.
Team Korea, led by the Korea Electric Power Corp., was shortlisted last year for a nuclear power plant construction project in Saudi Arabia, along with the US, China, France and Russia. The project by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy is aimed at building two nuclear power plants by 2030.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Different South Korean companies are reportedly keen to invest in Saudi Arabia and become part of Vision 2030’s success.

• The Saudi leader is also expected to attend a ceremony celebrating the completion of Saudi-owned S-Oil’s residue upgrading facility.

• Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will also attend the G20 Summit next week in Osaka, Japan.

With Riyadh reportedly leaning toward the US bidder, Team Korea is considering forming a strategic consortium with the US side, according to government sources.
“The possibility of the Korea-US consortium for the Saudi project is a feasible option,” said Huh Min-ho, a researcher of Shinhan Invest Corp., referring to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of the technical design of South Korea’s APR-1400 reactors.
“For South Korea, joining hands with the US is a feasible option to win the Saudi nuclear reactor contract, though the total order amount would be reduced,” the analyst said. “Once the Saudi project is won, more orders are expected to come from other countries such as the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland.”
South Korea already has a nuclear power footprint in in the Middle East after its construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant in the UAE. The country recently won a five-year maintenance deal for the nuclear plant with Nawah Energy Co., the operator of the plant.
The Saudi crown prince is also interested in South Korea’s weapons development technology, according to defense sources, and is scheduled to visit the Agency for Defense Development, South Korea’s only weapons developing agency, during his stay.
“We heard the crown prince is interested in the transfer of weapons technology when his country imports foreign weapons systems,” a Defense Ministry official told Arab News.
The Saudi leader is also expected to attend a ceremony celebrating the completion of Saudi-owned S-Oil’s residue upgrading facility. S-Oil, which is wholly owned by state-run Saudi Aramco, is third-largest oil refiner in South Korea.