Vision 2030: All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects

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The Qiddiya project aims to be a destination where Saudis can find excitement, inspiration, creative communities and opportunities for investment and work. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
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The Qiddiya project aims to be a destination where Saudis can find excitement, inspiration, creative communities and opportunities for investment and work. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
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Amaala is another giga-project planned for Saudi Arabia, and aims to focus on ultra-luxury ‘wellness tourism’ and the arts. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
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Amaala is another giga-project planned for Saudi Arabia, and aims to focus on ultra-luxury ‘wellness tourism’ and the arts. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
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NEOM is a giant zone being developed in the northwest of Saudi Arabia with $500 billion investment support from the public investment fund (PIF). (Supplied)
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Amaala is another giga-project planned for Saudi Arabia, and aims to focus on ultra-luxury ‘wellness tourism’ and the arts. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
Updated 11 May 2019
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Vision 2030: All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects

  • Huge developments aim to put Kingdom on global tourism map
  • Work on first development in $500bn NEOM zone set to complete in 2020

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is making sincere efforts towards economic, social and cultural diversification with the works in progress on giga-projects, which are designed to be places of inspiration, discovery and fruitful engagements for the millennial generation.

The biggest development projects till date: Qiddiya Entertainment City, NEOM, the Red Sea Project and Amaala resort will shape the future of tourism as an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the Kingdom’s current and future generations.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2016 mandated the development of long-term model of prosperity for the Kingdom and the result was Vision 2030, an ambitious yet attainable blueprint to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a vibrant society, a thriving economy and a progressive nation.

These developments are part of the Crown Prince’s ambitious plan Saudi Vision 2030 that aims to diversify the economy, away from a dependency on oil and society with varied and rich experience of a quality lifestyle including world class tourism.

In response to multiple societal challenges including limited entertainment options, demographic and social change, careers in a world beyond oil, and public health, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund owned by Saudi Arabia has been tasked with developing the series of “giga-projects.”

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. (Supplied)

QIDDIYA

The Qiddiya project aims to meet these challenges by providing a destination where Saudis find excitement, inspiration, creative communities and career and investment opportunities.

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. When completed Qiddiya will become a place to live, work and play, a prominent landmark and an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the kingdom’s current and future generations.

Qiddiya, an important hub planned in the Saudi capital to fulfill the recreational and entertainment needs of the people, will see the launch of the construction phase this year. Qiddiya CEO Mike Reininger told Arab News in January: “2019 will see Qiddiya move from the planning and design phase to the construction phase.”

The Qiddiya site is 40 kilometers from the center of Riyadh city. When completed, this prominent landmark is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida.

The ambitious project hopes to attract local, regional and international tourists. It includes theme parks, entertainment centers, sports amenities capable of hosting international competitions, training academies, desert and asphalt tracks for motorsport enthusiasts, water- and snow-based recreation, adventure activities alongside nature and safari experiences, and an array of historical, cultural and educational activities and events.

Visitors will have access to more than 300 recreational and educational facilities designed around five cornerstones of development that drive the strategy: Parks and attractions, sports and wellness, motion and mobility, nature and environment, and arts and culture.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty. (Supplied)

NEOM

NEOM, is a giant zone being being developed in the northwest of Saudi Arabia with a $500 billion investment support from the Public Investment fund (PIF).

The project, which has been described as “the destination for the future of living,” will stretch across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders and aims to transform the Kingdom into an international pioneering example, through introduction of value chains of industry and technology.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty.

The origin of the name is a combination of the Latin word “neo” meaning “new,” and the first letter “m” of the Arabic word “mustaqbal” which means “future”.

NEOM, which was announced in 2017 and is in a pristine position on the Red Sea, is expected to focus on luxurious living, and will include high-end hotels and villas. Moreover, homes in the development will be marketed to both regional and international buyers.

Saudi Arabia announced in January this year that it will start developing the first urban area of the zone after the founding board, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved the master-plan for NEOM Bay, which will include homes, lifestyle and tourist facilities, and “innovation centers.” Construction work was expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and will be completed in 2020.

“We are now preparing for the development of NEOM Bay area, which will provide a new concept of urban living that will enable it to become a platform for attracting the world’s top minds for creating advanced economic sectors,” said Nadhmi Al-Nasr, NEOM chief executive, in January.

In late January, Saudi Arabia established a company to develop NEOM. The closed joint-stock NEOM Company will be fully owned by the PIF and will develop the vast project, which will include multiple cities, airports, a seaport, tourist areas, industrial complexes and “innovation centers.”

According to Al-Nasr, the new entity will be responsible for developing a new global destination from scratch on a huge area and a futuristic civilization that is based on sustainability and livability.

“All this aims to turn NEOM into a global center for attracting investment, knowledge, innovation and technology in order to compete with all economic capital cities,” he said.

NEOM’s economic prospects will focus on 16 sectors: Energy, water, mobility, bio-tech, food, manufacturing, media, entertainment, culture, and fashion, technology including digital, tourism, sport, design and construction, services, health and well-being, education and liveability.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map. (Supplied)

THE RED SEA PROJECT

The Red Sea Project, one of the giga-projects announced by the crown prince in 2017, is billed as one of the the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects: An ultra-luxury destination that is being created around one of the world’s hidden natural treasures.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map.

Once completed, visitors will be able to explore the wonders and rich cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia’s untouched Red Sea Coast.

This is a touristic project that includes more than 90 unspoiled islands located between the cities of Umluj and Al-Wajh. It covers a number of the Red Sea’s untouched islands and a nature reserve containing regional flora and fauna.

Situated between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, the site is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and within eight hours’ flying time of 80 percent of the world’s population.

The vision of the project includes creating an exquisite ultra-luxury destination within a pristine 28,000 sq km area that includes an archipelago of more than 90 unspoiled islands, volcanoes, desert, mountains, nature and culture.

The project is planned to set new standards for sustainable development and environmental protection, exceed expectations with the highest standards of service excellence and use technology to enable a seamless personalized experience that will position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.

The project offers a secure and stable environment for investors within the world’s fastest growing tourism region. In December 2018 King Salman received a team from the Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), led by CEO John Pagano at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh that gave a progress report on the ambitious tourism and leisure project with a presentation detailing the master plan and its economic and developmental objectives, which aim to establish it as a leading global destination in the luxury tourism sector.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2022, includes 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels providing 3,000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts on the Kingdom’s west coast, an airport to serve the destination, and marinas, along with residential properties and recreational facilities.

By the time the project is completed, there will be 22 developed islands out of a total of 90 islands.

It is expected to create 70,000 jobs and play a significant role in driving economic diversification in the Kingdom by attracting nearly a million visitors a year and contributing SR22 billion to the country’s GDP.

Notably, plans to develop the project have been given the green light. The TRSDC has received final approval from its board of directors for the program’s master plan in January this year.

Commenting on it Pagano said: “With the master plan approved, we are now identifying investors and partners who are interested in working with us on realizing the objectives of the project and who share our commitment to enhance, not exploit, the natural ecosystems that make the destination so unique.”

Significantly, the Red Sea project ensures protection of ecology. As part of the planning process, major environmental studies were carried out to ensure that the area’s sensitive ecology was protected both during and after completion of the development.

Furthermore, the master plan is underpinned by an extensive smart destination management system that will support a wide range of personalized products and services designed to appeal to the modern luxury traveler.

The TRSDC employed the world’s first destination-scale computer simulation techniques, created in Saudi Arabia, to assess the impact of the development and future tourism on the environment. The resulting plan now targets a 30 percent net increase in biodiversity over the next two decades, a conservation equivalent to designating the site as a marine protection area.

Technology also underpins the destination’s sustainability initiatives, with a suite of sensors and monitoring devices in place to track and measure variations in environmental factors such as water salinity, temperature, visibility and tidal flows.

“The leadership of the Kingdom has shown great foresight in its insistence on balanced development of this pristine destination,” said Pagano. “Our plan not only envisions a stunning luxury destination, it also takes tangible, measurable steps to enhance that destination for future generations to enjoy and cherish.”

The Amaala resort, already being dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East, will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. (Supplied)

AMAALA

The Amaala project is another global destination aims to focus on ultra-luxury “wellness tourism” and the arts alongside other Red Sea mega-projects NEOM, a 26,500 square mile business zone and Saudi Arabia’s answer to Silicon Valley currently under development in the northwest of the kingdom and the Red Sea project.

This ultra-luxurious destination on the Kingdom’s northwestern coast of the Red Sea has been announced by the PIF, which is spearheading the project and will provide initial funding. Partnership and investment packages will be available to the private sector as it progresses.

The “Amaala” resort, already being dubbed the “Riviera of the Middle East,” will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. The resort will be located in the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nature Reserve. PIF said Amaala will sit alongside NEOM and the Red Sea Project as part of a giga-projects investment portfolio, which will establish a unique “tourism ecosystem,” supporting economic diversification and creating high-value job opportunities.

Nicholas Naples, a veteran luxury hospitality and development executive, will be the CEO of the project, PIF said in September 2018.

“Amaala will awaken the world’s imagination by rephrasing the current concept of the luxury tourism experience, especially in terms integrative wellness, specialty treatments and related recreational offerings,” Naples said at the time.

“Amaala represents a unique and transformational luxury experience where full-fledged wellness tourism is integrated alongside a curated mix of arts, culture and sports offerings that are individually tailored for the ultra-luxury lifestyle, including the availability of  a fashion scene, healthy-living services, and year-round sea expeditions,” Naples added.

According to the developers, Amaala will feature “extraordinary architecture and unprecedented luxury in both hotels and private villas as well as a quaint retail village.”

It will also include an arts academy that will foster the growth and development of young artists from Saudi Arabia and the region.

PIF announced there will be cultural events, artistic performances and related conferences in a bid to bring international visitors to the region, where they can enjoy a wide array of unique and personalized holiday experiences set against stunning scenery, mountainous landscapes and diving among pristine coral reefs.

The project will include marinas and a yacht club and aims to be a destination for boutique luxury cruises.

The retail areas will include a mix of galleries, ateliers, artisan workshops and bespoke outlets along with a wide range of international and local restaurants.

As envisioned in Vision 2030, Amaala – along with the other giga-projects — will support the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s leisure and tourism industry, while promoting cultural conservation, ecological preservation and sustainability.


INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

Updated 24 min 26 sec ago
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INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

  • The CEO has made it big in telecoms, in a career shaped early on by Lebanon’s bloody civil war

For some, student survival means merely coasting along at university in the hope of bagging a 2.1, as well as invites to as many parties as possible.

For telecoms executive Sam Darwish, however, survival took on a more literal sense, having embarked on his studies in the dying days of the Lebanese civil war.

Teenage life was tough for Darwish, who is now 47 and a US citizen. Growing up in Beirut in the 1980s meant a constant backdrop of violence —  “there were many wounded,” he said — plus the daily struggles of putting food on the table and regular electricity blackouts.

But it was this experience that taught Darwish a certain “pragmatism” that he continues to put to use today as chief executive of telecoms company IHS Towers, which has to date raised more than $5.5 billion in funding.

Sitting in the IHS office in London’s plush Mayfair district, Darwish recounted how, when he was a student, his father would give him a small sum of money each day. He could either use it to take public transport to the American University of Beirut campus — or buy lunch, and risk the walk through the war-torn streets.

“Decisions like that make you pragmatic. It makes you solution-orientated. It makes you appreciate what the basics in life are,” said Darwish.

“You need just to survive. You need to find a solution. Electricity would disappear for a few days, then people started charging their batteries in their cars, and at the end of the day remove the battery to put on a light or small TV,” he added.

“It taught me to not take anything for granted. You needed to think and rethink every little thing that exists.”

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BIO

SAM DARWISH

•47 years old

•US citizen, grew up in Lebanon

•Married, three children based in US

EDUCATION

•Bachelor’s engineering degree in computer communications, American University of Beirut

CAREER

•Network chief engineer, Libancell, Lebanon

•Vice chairman, director of projects, Lintel

•Deputy managing director, CELIA Motophone, Nigeria

•Co-founder, IHS Towers

OTHER INTERESTS

•Founder, Singularity Investments

•Founder, DAR Properties

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This practical attention to detail — along with an awareness of the importance of finance, power and security — are very much required in Darwish’s role today.

IHS Towers’ business model is relatively straightforward: The company buys mobile towers from telecoms companies, or builds them itself, then leases them back to the operators.

Darwish co-founded the company in Nigeria in 2001, and it now has operations in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Zambia.

Renting out mobile communications towers is hardly the most glamorous of businesses — it is “simple and low profile, we don’t make it flashy,” he said — but the economics stack up.

Selling mobile towers allows telecoms companies to free up cash, while companies such as IHS can rent space on the masts to multiple carriers, which is more efficient. It is a model that Darwish believes the entire industry will one day embrace.

“When (a single operator) owns a tower, often it’s not optimized in terms of the revenue that that tower can get,” he said.

“They end up with hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars on their balance sheet (with) towers (that are) inefficient, and simply depreciating. Sharing means more efficiency, and more margin for everyone.”

There is also a certain advantage to dealing with purely “basic” infrastructure, given the global furor about the security of telecoms networks.

IHS deals with the actual steel masts, rather than the more sensitive communications kit or software they house.

For that reason, it does not face as much scrutiny as a company such as Huawei, the Chinese equipment firm that the US believes poses a security risk.

“There’s a big difference between us and what Huawei does. We’re providers of passive infrastructure,” said Darwish.

“Our towers are simple towers … It’s a location, it’s a tower, it’s power, it’s security —  that’s what we provide,” he added.

“But at the end of the day, we’re also part of critical infrastructure for countries … So there’s always the aspect of ‘who are these guys, who are their shareholders, what’s their track record, what’s their governance like?’”

That is partly why Darwish runs IHS as if it was a “a public company by Western standards.” The company’s governance is “very strict,” and its high-profile shareholders include Goldman Sachs (through a special fund), the Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, the Korea Investment Corp. and IFC, the private equity arm of the World Bank.

At the end of the day, we’re part of a critical infrastructure for countries.

Sam Darwish

Such backing — Darwish said IHS has raised between $5.5 billion and $6 billion of capital since it was formed —  and governance standards bode well for a potential initial public offering (IPO) of IHS.

The company last year shelved such a plan, but Darwish said it is thinking about “moving ahead” with plans for a listing in New York or London.

“There are hundreds of thousands of towers out there that could be bought, or built, over the next few years … That’s why a potential listing is important to us at some point in time,” he said.

Such a move would potentially expedite the company’s expansion in areas such as the Arabian Gulf, which is currently its “main focus.”

IHS has already struck regional agreements to buy towers from telecoms operators Zain Kuwait and Zain KSA.

Upon completion of those two deals — which are still subject to regulatory approval — the Mauritius-headquartered IHS will have approximately 33,100 towers in its portfolio. It is currently the world’s second-largest independent, multi-country tower operator.

Darwish said Saudi Arabia is “where we’d like to grow,” with IHS recently having obtained a foreign investment license from the General Investment Authority, with plans for an office staffed by 100-200 people.

He cited the economic reforms underway, which include weaning Saudi Arabia off its reliance on oil and encouraging more women into the workplace.

“The Kingdom is going through a transformation now. This transformation is fascinating, and it’s something that needs to be watched very carefully,” he said.

“They’re using this cash they have now to start planning, and start transforming — theaters, entertainment, industries, manufacturing, all these massive investments they’re doing.”

Whilst inhabiting an industry that lacks a certain glam factor, there is something of the “Davos man” about Darwish.

Dressed casually in a designer jacket in his Mayfair office, he explained some of his interests that run parallel to IHS.

He is the founder of Singularity Investments, a private investment firm with a focus on technology and media companies in the US and emerging markets, along with DAR Properties, a property investment company.

Darwish also has a strong interest in corporate social responsibility, having supported incubator programs for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Lagos, served as a mentor to local business executives, and worked on several health and education projects in Africa.

His personal passion, however, is the IHS Academy, launched one and a half years ago, which offers online education in the field and has seen some 40,000 course completions.

“The training for me is the single most important thing I can give, and it helps us at the end of the day,” said Darwish.

“I personally believe in the power of education — that’s what transformed my life. My father worked three shifts to basically make sure we stayed in the best private schools … He believed in what education can do in transforming lives.”

Darwish’s own studies in Beirut, however, nearly took a different turn. Though he graduated as an engineer in computer communications with “the highest distinction” — setting him out on a 20-year career in telecoms — it was never the path he envisaged.

“I wanted to be a Nobel Prize physicist. (But the university) dean called me, and he was like, ‘no — we need you in engineering’,” Darwish said. “It was just by accident that I became an engineer, but it paid off.”