Diriyah is the anchor for the Kingdom’s bright future
Very rarely in life do you get the opportunity to be part of something that is both historic and a game changer for the industry. I have been fortunate enough to have had a few of those opportunities in my life. But nothing I have ever done compares to the scale of what the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are doing in Saudi Arabia.
I was privileged to be asked to be part of the restoration of the birthplace of the Kingdom, with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
As we commemorate the fifth year of DGDA, we also celebrate a momentous year in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In February, 300 years ago, the first Saudi state was founded. It was within this first state that Diriyah was the original home of the Saudi royal family, serving as the capital of the Emirate of Diriyah under the first Saudi dynasty from 1727 to 1818.
Nestled around the UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif, Diriyah today holds an incredibly special place in the landscape of the Kingdom. There is an immense sense of pride in Diriyah among Saudis, particularly with it being the birthplace of the Saudi state.
As we move forward, it is of utmost importance that we revere the past and uplift the rich cultural heritage of the lands we live on today. The present we all share holds a priceless opportunity to recognize the past and actualize the future. DGDA is proud to embody this inspiring vision.
The uniqueness of any project starts with the location, so what we are trying to do is curate an experience that delivers an authentic connection with visitors to Diriyah as a place. One of the ways we are doing that is by building around At-Turaif. There are not many new developments in the world that can boast that sort of centerpiece.
Culture and heritage is at the foundation of all we do at Diriyah and is woven into our strategy at every stage of the development. Our starting point is always that Diriyah is, first and foremost, a place of culture.
That is what sets us apart from any other mixed-use development or any other giga project; the fact that we at DGDA are the custodians of this magnificent piece of Saudi heritage that we have the privilege of preserving, sharing and celebrating with the world.
Since September 2020, DGDA has more than doubled its staffing headcount, today employing over 1,000 staff members across its four master plans. The focus is on delivering what is recognized as the highest caliber development both within Saudi Arabia and internationally and investing in the Kingdom’s future with an 85 percent Saudization employee rate across the authority.
Marking the Kingdom’s efforts to uplift and empower its local working force, 85 percent of our team consists of Saudis, 36 percent of these Saudis are women and 16 percent of those Saudi women hold management titles.
One thing I am particularly proud of is DGDA’s commitment to, and achievements in, enabling the people of Diriyah to achieve their goals.
DGDA has and continues to celebrate the local community, showcasing social, cultural, and historical achievements, connecting with the roots of the Saudi state, and creating solid foundations on which to build the best possible future for the community.
To this end, 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah, comprising some of the most talented individuals within the Kingdom.
There is so much to be proud of. Diriyah is one of the largest and most complex developments in the world, with the intention of creating the world’s largest cultural and heritage site, and one of the globe’s greatest gathering places.
The present we all share holds a priceless opportunity to recognize the past and actualize the future. DGDA is proud to embody this inspiring vision.
Diriyah seamlessly integrates traditional Najdi architectural typologies alongside contemporary, luxury six-star assets across hotels, residences, offices, restaurants, retail and more.
How does Diriyah tie in with the Saudi Vision 2030 plan? The answer will become very evident as we get closer to 2030. Here’s the premise: It is felt by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that Saudi Arabia’s greatness should not be solely measured on its bright future; Saudi Arabia’s greatness should be anchored on its past.
So Saudi Arabia is not just about its future. What Saudis are saying is: “We are not starting the clock now. We started the clock 300 years ago.” So, in the same way one would celebrate France’s rich history, England’s rich history, or Spain’s rich history, Saudi Arabia can celebrate its own history.
But how do you celebrate your history? Do you celebrate it in economic terms? The king and the crown prince want to celebrate the richness of its national identity, which is defined by its culture and heritage.
So, we are not bringing a new culture and heritage of 30 or 40 years; we are bringing something of 300 years. That’s why Diriyah is the anchor for what the bright future is. Diriyah is more than a giga-project. Diriyah is critical, because it anchors the Kingdom on its identity and on its soul, and the soul cannot be measured with money. The soul is measured on its culture and its people. That’s why it’s very important.
It will be an iconic tourist destination and be synonymous with where the Kingdom and wider Arabian Peninsula’s story began.
For me personally, success will be when we have delivered on the vision set out in the giga-project’s masterplans. It will be when we can show the world that Diriyah truly is one of the world’s culture and heritage capitals and is an authentic, fitting tribute to the immense historical legacy it represents.
This will start when we open the doors of At-Turaif to the world for the very first time.
In the short term, we have had immense successes, particularly on the construction and development side, which is providing us with the critical foundation from which to build toward our wider objectives. Over the longer term, success will be once Diriyah positively contributes to the Kingdom’s GDP, creates an estimated 55,000 jobs, and attracts our target of 30 million visitors a year.
As for how success of the project can be measured, the number of people who visit Saudi Arabia in terms of measurement of success is actually one of the smallest components. The major element of success is to re-acquaint all Saudis with their ancestral home, and that it’s a source of national pride, of identity.
That is the principal measurement of success. In other words: “We as a people, we started here, it’s our home. It’s where the Arabian Peninsula started. It has the largest economy in the Middle East, a population of 35 million and is a member of the G20.”
Our achievements and accolades would not be possible without the enduring support and trust of the Leadership of Saudi Arabia. I would like to thank the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman for his dedication to the beloved Kingdom and patronage of projects that will only help Saudi Arabia continue to flourish.
I would also like to thank HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his dynamic vision that has allowed Diriyah to advance to its current stage. As we stand at the threshold of opening this autumn, Diriyah will stand as a global cultural and commercial gathering place by virtue of the Kingdom’s leadership.
As we move forward toward helping to realize Vision 2030, and our promise to cherish and serve the community of Diriyah, we are very proud to say that DGDA is no longer aspirational, it is now.
• Jerry Inzerillo is the Group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.