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.”


Indian exporters urge government to negotiate lift of Saudi ban on produce 

Updated 57 min 48 sec ago
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Indian exporters urge government to negotiate lift of Saudi ban on produce 

  • The ban was imposed in wake of Nipah virus outbreak last May 
  • With mango season around the corner, Kerala exporters hope the Kingdom will allow imports again

NEW DELHI: Indian exporters have urged the government to ask Saudi Arabia to lift the importation ban on fruits and vegetables from the southern state of Kerala.

The outbreak of a deadly virus in certain parts of Kerala in May last year forced Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to ban imports of horticultural products from the state. 

Most GCC countries have lifted the ban thereafter.

“We are losing more than $1,000 per day as a result of the ban,” says P.E. Ashraf Ali of Pomona Exports, a Kerala-based export company that has been sending fruits and vegetables to Saudi Arabia for the past 20 years.

“We are now sending our products to other south Indian cities, like Coimbatore and Bangalore, and this entails extra costs for us and has significantly reduced our profit margin,” Ali told Arab News.  

Around 20 exporters in Kerala export horticulture products to GCC countries.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the major markets for us in the Gulf region,” said Ali. “Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah are three major airports to which we send our products.” 

V.S. Sunil Kumar, Kerala's agriculture minister, called it “a serious issue.”

He said: “I have already sent two letters to the union government in New Delhi to talk to Saudi Arabia and sort out the matter. New Delhi should reassure them and request them to lift the ban.”

Kumar, who is also a minister in the communist government in the southern state, reiterated the importance of trade with Saudi Arabia.

“Kerala and the Kingdom have shared close trade and cultural ties for centuries,” he told Arab News. “I understand the central government has already taken up the issue with authorities in Saudi Arabia. New Delhi should take more proactive steps to address the concerns of exporters in Kerala.”

V Venugopal, president of the Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a premier trade body in Kerala, called for inter-governmental discussion between India and Saudi Arabia to sort out this issue.

“The Kerala government has taken very effective steps to control the Nipah virus,” he said. “If exports do not resume soon, the fruit and vegetable market will be very badly impacted. These are very perishable items that cannot be stored. The Indian government should convince Riyadh that Nipah was a small incident that happened more than seven months ago.”

He said that mangoes from Kerala are among the most popular in Saudi Arabia and that many people from Kerala living in Saudi Arabia are expecting the fruit. 

“This is not only a loss for local farmers, but for people in the country,” he said.

Arab News approached the Commerce Ministry in New Delhi on this issue, but received no comment.