RIYADH: One of the key advantages that the team behind Saudi Arabia’s ambitious drive to create a global hub of entertainment have is the shared vision for the project held by all those involved, the CEO of the Qiddiya Investment Company has told Arab News’ sister news organization Asharq news.
“The beauty of a project like the Qiddiya project is that you don’t have to spend too much time to explain to people what they are here for — they know,” Phillipe Gas said.
“They come to the site, they see this beautiful cliff, and they know what it will take. So there’s a pride in everybody that you don’t have to force yourself to explain — they have it. That’s a strength we have,” Gas explained.
Qiddiya is one of the biggest investments in the future of entertainment in the Middle East.
Aimed at becoming a regional and global hub of entertainment, culture and sport, Qiddiya, Gas said, promises to be a place like no other.
“The ambition for Qiddiya,” he said, “is to become the world capital of entertainment, sports and the arts.”
The city — which will cover over 366 square kilometers of land — will host a Formula 1 racing track, a Six Flags theme park, a water park, sports facilities such as football stadiums and development infrastructure for young Saudi athletes, and an extensive range of cultural, creative and artistic activities.
But for Gas, who has spent most of his career at the helm of the company behind the iconic Disneyland Paris theme park, Qiddiya’s alignment with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 was what drew him to it in the first place — he wanted to be part of the Kingdom’s story.
“The main reason (to work on Qiddiya) has been actually how connected the project is to Vision 2030 and the overall transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Vision 2030 is an ambitious national strategy to ensure that the Kingdom is a vibrant, progressive society, with a thriving economy, by the end of the decade.
Qiddiya, with its promise of an unparalleled touristic experience, is one of a number of “giga-projects” that constitute a core part of the Kingdom’s economic transition away from its current emphasis on oil.
“You don’t have that many opportunities in your life, in your professional life, to influence such an amazing project. This is what was most appealing to me,” Gas said.
He said that the importance of entertainment, and the human connection it facilitates, is increasingly being understood and emphasized globally, and this is why Qiddiya is such an important part of Vision 2030.
“Entertainment is something that has grown in terms of importance everywhere. We have this growing realisation in the world that time passes very fast and people need to enjoy time together, and do things together — not just work, go to bed and go back to work.”
He continued: “We have seen the importance around the world of preserving time with friends, as a family and as couples — to get to know each other better, to connect with one another.
“This is why entertainment as a sector is growing in importance, and you see this, actually, with Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia.”
The strategy, he told Asharq news, emphasizes “the wellness of the people, bringing more happiness into the lives of families, and to do this you need to share time together and enjoy the moments you have.”
Technology, and its capacity to create immersive experiences, will be a core tool used to create these shared moments between visitors to Qiddiya.
“People want less and less to be a spectator of an activity; they want to be part of it. This is where technology comes into the picture,” Gas said.
“Augmented reality, virtual reality, and a lot of the effects we can play with and use, will draw people into the experience, they will become an actor in the experience. People want to live the experiences.”
This revolution in entertainment, Gas continued, is what makes the Qiddiya project so exciting not just for the people of Saudi Arabia, but the world.
“Qiddiya is absolutely unique. I have been working in the entertainment industry for many years now, and I have never seen such a proposition, that is integrating elements such as entertainment, sports, arts, performance, but also creativity.”
Qiddiya, he added, “is something that has not been proposed — ever — and this is what makes this place so unique.”
Construction has already begun on Qiddiya, which is located just 40 minutes from Riyadh, and the site will first open for activities in 2023.