Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary

Special The historic seat of the nascent Saudi state, Diriyah’s At-Turaif district is again in the ascendency; a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting attention around the world and creating jobs at home. (Supplied)
The historic seat of the nascent Saudi state, Diriyah’s At-Turaif district is again in the ascendency; a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting attention around the world and creating jobs at home. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 05 August 2022

Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary

Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary
  • Newest Saudi destination eyes the title of world’s largest cultural and heritage city, with 30 million visitors annually
  • DGDA, in charge of the $50 billion project, was recently included on the Kingdom’s ‘Great Places To Work’ list

RIYADH: Imagine this: a historical city, home to the rulers of a G20 country, bringing together communities from all walks of life to network. A pedestrian city, which encourages interaction and friendly engagements, a much-needed revolution for humanity after a two-year lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what Diriyah will become and represent.

Five years ago, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) was tasked by the Saudi government with redeveloping the “birthplace of the Kingdom” into a world-class and sustainable tourism, entertainment and cultural destination.

Once complete, the $50 billion giga-project will feature some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels built in traditional Najdi architectural style, alongside conservation areas and cultural venues.

Curved along the outskirts of Riyadh, and formed on an oasis that split from the banks of Wadi Hanifa, Diriyah’s mud-brick walls once housed a thriving desert city that was a powerhouse of culture and commerce.

Its At-Turaif district, with its famous citadel, was the original seat of power for the Kingdom’s Al-Saud family. In 1727, the city was named the country’s capital, laying the foundations for what would later become a unified Saudi Arabia.




Situated just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh, and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourist footfall. (Supplied)

In 2010, almost three centuries later, the ruins of At-Turaif were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then, in July 2017, the area became the subject of a painstaking restoration plan aimed at bringing its historical legacy back to life.

“Nestled around the Jewel of the Kingdom, the UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif, birthplace of the Kingdom and former home of the Al-Saud royal family, Diriyah holds an incredibly special place in the landscape of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. “It will be an iconic tourist destination and be synonymous with where the Kingdom and wider Arabian Peninsula’s story began.”

One of the core aims of the development of Diriyah is to stimulate domestic, regional and international tourism by creating world-class leisure, hospitality and retail offerings in a setting that celebrates both the Kingdom’s distinctive natural beauty and its rich culture. “We know that tourists are educated, more skilled, savvier, and sharper than ever before, and are on the hunt for experiences that cannot be found anywhere else,” said Inzerillo.

“They want to be pioneers, not only visiting places that offer things that were not possible before, but also offer an authentic cultural experience. It is now more important than ever that our industry caters to these worldly, curious travelers by curating destinations that will satiate their appetite for the new and the authentic.”

Situated just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh, and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourist footfall.

Sitting at the intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa, it is also a mere 8-hour flight from 70 percent of the world’s population, and just 4 hours from 30 percent of the world’s population. The 11 sq. km mixed-use cultural, historic and lifestyle destination is set to become the world’s largest cultural and heritage city, which aims to attract some 30 million visitors annually by 2030.




Other cultural assets will include a grand mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums focused on Saudi history, replete with a period village. (Supplied)

Once complete, the site will feature at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, around 400 of the world’s finest luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 fine-dining restaurants and premium cafes.

Outdoor activities will feature prominently in the tourism offering, focused around Wadi Hanifah, where visitors can discover local bee-keeping, enjoy 8 km of horse-riding trails, an historic camel caravan trade route that stretches for 7.5 km, and encounter the region’s unique fauna at the Bariri Diriyah Wildlife Conservation Center.

Tourists are not the only target market, however. There will be more than 3,000 residential units in the traditional Najdi design and another 300-plus luxury branded residences.

Some 180 million handmade mud bricks have been prepared as part of the Najdi architectural construction works and the authentic restoration of Diriyah, ensuring that each aspect correctly represents a sympathetic and accurate interpretation of Najdi living.

The site will also host a brand new academic institution, King Salman University, which will focus on heritage, culture and the arts, alongside several new cultural institutes specializing in Najdi architecture and mud-brick building, poetry, falconry, Qur’an recitation, local theater, dance, music and the culinary arts.

Other cultural assets will include a grand mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums focused on Saudi history, replete with a period village, not to mention the Al-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage site itself, and the Al-Taleh Center, which explores the region’s farming heritage. There will be souks and bazaars distributed throughout Diriyah.




Once complete, the site will feature at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, around 400 of the world’s finest luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 fine-dining restaurants and premium cafes. (Supplied)

These offerings have not gone unnoticed in the wider region. Diriyah has been chosen to be the Capital of Arab Culture for 2030. It has already hosted the Jax Arts Festival and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, a platform that supports the artistic and creative movement and helps keep pace with the cultural transformation of the Kingdom. “Culture and heritage is at the foundation of all we do at Diriyah and is weaved into our strategy at every stage of the development,” said Inzerillo.

“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.”

Central to this restoration plan is environmental sustainability.

The project is a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s sustainability goals and is aligned with the Saudi Green Initiative and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification and social reform agenda.

Native and drought-tolerant species have been used in the site’s landscaping, reducing irrigation demand and thereby saving water. Wadis and escarpments within the project are also being rehabilitated and protected, including Wadi Hanifah’s historic date palm farms.

Meanwhile, DGDA says it is contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions. These efforts already seem to be paying off. DGDA was recently awarded the LEED for Cities and Communities platinum precertification for the first phase of the Diriyah development, in recognition of its progress toward sustainability, net-zero and equity objectives.

Embracing its outdoor space, the development will feature an open-air square with more than 20 open-air event spaces, a 3-km escarpment walk overlooking Wadi Hanifah and At-Turaif, and more than 2 sq. km of Wadi Hanifah parkland, filled with original and newly planted palms and children’s playgrounds. With health, fitness and wellbeing in mind, planners are also building a sports and recreation center, and more than 9 km of cycling trails.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Diriyah is also set to host many more major sporting events. With its distinct road network, it has been a popular choice to host this world-famous Formula E racing event over the years. Diriyah was also host to “Clash on the Dunes,” the first heavyweight boxing championship to be held in the Middle East. Sporting brands are not the only big names drawn to Diriyah. The site recently hosted an exhibition by Cartier, one of the world’s most prestigious jewelry houses.

Amid all this rapid development, planners have not lost sight of the local population. The Diriyah Graduates Development Program has already welcomed 70 graduates to enhance their skills and introduce them to work opportunities.

Planners have also established the Diriyah Town Hall to keep the community in the loop, launched a recycling scheme, and organized regular blood drives to support the local healthcare system.

“One thing I am particularly proud of is DGDA’s commitment to, and achievements in, enabling the people of Diriyah to achieve their goals,” said Inzerillo. “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.”

Job creation — prioritizing Saudi workers — has been particularly high on the agenda, in line with the government’s Saudization drive.

Around 85 percent of the DGDA workforce are Saudis, 36 percent of whom are women and 16 percent of whom are women in management positions. People from Diriyah itself make up 14 percent of the workforce.

READ MORE

The fifth anniversary of the launch of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority was an amazing milestone, Kiran Haslam, the organization’s chief marketing officer, told the Arab News podcast “The Mayman Show.” Click here.

The beating heart of the Kingdom celebrates unique individuals from all over the world, while still recognizing the locals and encouraging them to participate in the development of their beloved city.

Since September 2020, the DGDA has more than doubled its staffing headcount, today employing more than 1,000 people. It was included on the “Great Place To Work” list for Saudi Arabia — a global survey that recognizes organizations based on their work environments and employee satisfaction. For Inzerillo, an important measure of the project’s success will be its economic impact.

“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,” he said. However, imbuing a sense of national pride among ordinary Saudis is by far the biggest prize of all.

“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,” he said.

“The soul is measured on its culture and its people. That’s why it’s very important.”

 

Druze: the great survivors
How the world's most secretive faithhas endured for a thousand years

Enter


keywords

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran
  • On Friday morning a man armed with a Kalashnikov-style rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia on Friday condemned an armed attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Teheran that killed one security personnel and injured others.
In a statement the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s complete rejection of all forms of violence and voiced solidarity with the Republic of Azerbaijan and its people, calling for the respect of diplomatic missions and punishing the perpetrators, reported state agency SPA.  
On Friday morning a man armed with a rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital, killing the head of security at the diplomatic post and wounding two guards, authorities said.


Woman arrested in US accused of murdering Saudi student in knife attack

Philadelphia police arrested Nicole Marie Rodgers on Friday for the murder of Alwaleed Algheraibi
Police found the body of Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, inside a property on Hansberry Street, in Germantown Philapdelphia. (Internet)
Updated 27 January 2023

Woman arrested in US accused of murdering Saudi student in knife attack

Philadelphia police arrested Nicole Marie Rodgers on Friday for the murder of Alwaleed Algheraibi

DUBAI: Philadelphia police arrested a 19-year-old woman on Friday in connection with the fatal stabbing of a Saudi student, local US media have reported - it is understood the woman was the victim’s neighbor.

Police found the body of Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, inside a property on Hansberry Street, in Germantown Philapdelphia, he had suffered a knife wound to the neck on Monday at about midday local time.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigating officers told local press that the victim’s phone and other valuables were taken.

Police confirmed Friday that Nicole Marie Rodgers was in custody following a week-long manhunt.

She faces charges of murder, robbery, burglary, theft, and possession of instrument of crime, police said.

Alwaleed Algheraibi was nearing the end of his studies and was due to return to Saudi Arabia.

The victim’s uncle told local Saudi media that his nephew’s suspected killer was a neighbor who lived in the apartment opposite.


Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions

Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions
Updated 27 January 2023

Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions

Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions
  • Report by Tuhoon, a Saudi tech startup founded in 2021, incorporates feedback from 4,000 employees
  • Culture surrounding mental health in the Kingdom appears to be improving despite limited available data

DUBAI: Although mental health issues present a significant challenge to productivity, a benchmark survey in Saudi Arabia has revealed yawning gaps between the services that human resources departments claim to provide and what employees believe is actually on offer, with employees largely unwilling to discuss workplace stress.

For the report, entitled “State of Wellness at the Workplace,” researchers talked to 4,000 employees in the Kingdom’s public and private sectors to assess where challenges arise in the workplace and how to fix them.

The study, which was compiled by Tuhoon, a Saudi tech startup founded in 2021, was carried out in collaboration with the Saudi National Center for Mental Health and the Ministry of Health. 

“The surveys were filled out anonymously, which made workers more receptive to talk about their issues,” Tuhoon CEO Fares Ghandour told Arab News.

“We found females are more willing to talk on a personal level but they opt out of discussing their mental health in the workspace as they do not wish to be perceived as weaklings. We also found workers above the age of 45 are less likely to talk about their mental health than younger generations.”

Tuhoon recently launched a smartphone app designed to help users improve their mental health, manage stress and get better quality of sleep through personalized, culturally relevant audio content.

This content includes meditation and mindfulness exercises, sleep stories, masterclasses, book summaries, deep-focus music, and emergency playlists. It is curated by doctors, clinical psychologists, and certified meditation and self-awareness coaches.

The study indicates that more than 80 percent of Saudi workplaces have no budget to support the mental health of their employees, despite the rising number of workers reporting a decline in their well-being.

The report says that the lack of mental health monitoring has taken a significant toll on the cultural and economic performance of many organizations, and the private sector is perceived as offering less assistance than the public sector.

According to the report, most workplaces are failing to prioritize the mental health of employees. It says that 78 percent of organizations do not measure their workers’ mental health at all, 82 percent have no dedicated resources for mental health services, and 52 percent do not provide health insurance cover for mental health.

It also says that at least four out of five employees experienced at least one mental health problem in the past year. The most common symptoms were anxiety, burnout and stress, as well as depression, relationship challenges and loneliness.

The available data on the issue of wellness in Saudi workplaces, including details of programs and benefits employers offer their workers, remains limited but the culture surrounding mental health does appear to be improving.

However, the Arab world in general lags in this regard which Ghandour says is why he founded Tuhoon.

“I have been investing in tech businesses for nine years,” he told Arab News. “I decided I wanted to build and invest in something I am passionate about, and the mental health cause is dear to me.

“I approached Dr. Naif Almutawa, a clinical psychologist, and Aymane Sennoussi, who became co-founders, and I put my time, energy and effort into making Saudi Arabia and the Arab world a happier and healthier place.”

Mental health problems are among the leading causes of disability worldwide, with depression topping the list. They can affect people regardless of age, culture and socioeconomic status.

The World Health Organization estimates a quarter of the global population will suffer a mental health issue at some point during their lives, and that about 12 billion working days are lost each year to depression and anxiety at an annual cost of $1 trillion in lost productivity.

The Tuhoon survey of Saudi workplaces posed the question: “How would you rate your mental health over the past 12 months on a scale, from 0 to 4?” It found that 24 percent of respondents ranked their mental health as below average.

Almost a quarter of respondents ranked their mental health below average, with 44 percent of Saudi women and 32 percent of Saudi men in the workplace prone to burnout. (Shutterstock)

Among the respondents, women were 62 percent more likely to develop a mental health problem than men, while 44 percent of women in work were found to be prone to burnout and anxiety compared with 32 percent of men.

The research also revealed that 57 percent believed work-related stress affected their mental well-being.

Of the 50 human resources departments that were surveyed, 59 percent said their organizations did not provide mental health insurance coverage, and 82 percent said their companies did not have an employee assistance program. EAPs are designed to help workers resolve professional and personal problems that might be affecting their productivity.

The results of the Saudi surveys compare with the findings of a 2022 workplace report entitled “Mental Health in America” in which one-third of HR professionals said their organization provided no mental health services to employees, 27 percent said their organization was not sure of the proper benefits to provide, and 18 percent said their organization was unsure of what plan or insurance to offer workers.

In the UK, according to a 2022 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, there is weak leadership on the issue of mental health in the workplace, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures show that only 29 percent of employers are able to spot early signs of mental health problems in their workers. Less than half (42 percent) of employers said that their leaders focus and encourage positive mental health by actions and behavior.

Good mental health is viewed as a key measure of prosperous and successful nations and organizations.

The Kingdom’s public sector scored higher (45 percent) than the private sector (36 percent) in terms of the proportion of employers that offered health insurance coverage that includes mental health services. Ghandour believes this is because the public sector plays such a major role in the Saudi economy, and so employees are looked after relatively well in an effort to maintain high productivity levels.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

According to studies by the Arab Barometer research network, however, more than half of residents in the Arab world find it hard to find decent mental health services. And globally, organizations struggle in the execution of HR policies designed to support mental health.

In 2019, the Saudi National Mental Health Survey found that 34 percent of people had experienced a mental health issue at some point in their lives, with blue collar-workers more open to reporting the challenges they faced than their white-collar counterparts.

It also found the most prevalent mental illnesses in the Kingdom were separation anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Better-educated Saudis were more prone to such conditions.

Some 80 percent of respondents afflicted by a serious mental illness said they had not sought any treatment, while 8.9 percent said they had gone to a religious adviser or non-medical healer for help.

Experts say that to promote a healthier work culture, employers need to prioritize well-being, work to reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and provide mental health coverage for employees.

Tuhoon believes workplaces need to start viewing mental health as a collective issue rather than an individual problem. It recommends nine cost-effective steps to improve workplace mental health and, as a result, boost productivity.

These steps include workshops to raise awareness of the issue, and webinars on topics such as stress management, dealing with burnout, and increasing connectivity between workers. It also suggests offering additional days off to increase morale, training managers to spot mental health problems in workers, and creating a more welcoming and trusting work environment.

I decided I wanted to build and invest in something I am passionate about, and the mental health cause is dear to me,” said Fares Ghandour, CEO of Tuhoon. (Supplied)

Furthermore, Tuhoon urges employers to promote workplace behaviors that reduce burnout by encouraging workers to take time off if needed, offering a more flexible work environment, promoting a healthy balance between work and personal life, and creating a “check in” culture.

Additional recommendations include encouraging employers to use mental health assessments as a tool to measure stress and challenges, and to connect workers with helpful resources if needed.

Tuhoon says mental health “first aid” courses could also provide staff with the skills they need to detect the early signs of stressors and provide solutions and rapid responses to help distressed workers.

This could further reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. Appointing “mental health ambassadors” would also contribute to more open and supportive conversations in the workplace.

Regarding the well-being of women in particular, Tuhoon urges employers to adjust workplace policies and encourage female employees to report harassment and sexual assault through the provision of a proper platform for doing so. Salaries and promotions must also be fairly determined regardless of gender.

Finally, employers and employees are encouraged to show gratitude in the workplace and introduce mechanisms through which workers feel able to talk about things or people they are grateful for inside and outside of work.

Tuhoon believes this could lead to enhanced job satisfaction, fewer sick days, the promotion of a positive and more trusting work environment, and increased productivity.


Saudi heritage event in ancient Uqair port attracts more than 60,000 visitors

Saudi heritage event in ancient Uqair port attracts more than 60,000 visitors
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi heritage event in ancient Uqair port attracts more than 60,000 visitors

Saudi heritage event in ancient Uqair port attracts more than 60,000 visitors

RIYADH: The “Uqair Inscriptions” event held along the banks of the ancient seaport city in Al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province concluded on Wednesday with more than 60,000 visitors attending, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.
The event, organized by the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission in cooperation with the Culture and Arts Association in Al-Ahsa, included heritage and folklore performances and traditional handicrafts unique to Al-Ahsa through dramatized scenes of life from the past in the historic port.
The scenes also depicted its position as an important commercial gateway on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, from the arrival of sailboats to the port to loading the camel convoys with goods headed toward Al-Ahsa and Najd.
The event also included a photographic exhibition displaying pictures of the founding king in Uqair in 1915.
Uqair is the first seaport in the east of the Kingdom on the Arabian Gulf coast, the economic gateway since the beginning of the establishment of the state, and the main port to reach the east and center of the Kingdom.
During that time, the state worked to develop the port by establishing customs, passports, a principality building, and fortress, and goods and foodstuffs were brought to the heart of the Arabian Peninsula and the capital, Riyadh, through this port.


Saudi chief of the general staff meets number of officials in Italy

Saudi chief of the general staff meets number of officials in Italy
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi chief of the general staff meets number of officials in Italy

Saudi chief of the general staff meets number of officials in Italy

ROME: Saudi Arabia’s Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Fayyadh Al-Ruwaili on Thursday began an official multi-day visit to Italy, where he is scheduled to hold talks with a number of high-ranking Italian officials.
Upon arrival at Ciampino Military Airport in Rome, he was received by the Italian Chief of the Defense Staff, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone.
Al-Ruwaili met with Italian Minister of Defense Guido Crosetto and discussed bilateral cooperation and opportunities to bolster joint military coordination.
Al-Ruwaili visited the headquarters of the Defense Staff, where he met with Dragone and discussed a number of topics and means to enhance that cooperation.
The Saudi commander then met with Secretary General of Defense and National Armaments Director Lt. Gen. Luciano Portolano.
During a meeting with Gen. Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, commander of Italian Joint Operations Headquarters, Al-Ruwaili also discussed bilateral relations as well as means to enhance defense cooperation with him.
He also toured several companies linked to the Italian defense industry, including Fincantieri shipbuilding company, electronic-warfare specialist Elettronica, Leonardo Defense, and European multinational developer and manufacturer of missiles MBDA, where he was briefed about their military and defense products.