The giga-projects that are redefining the image of Saudi Arabia

The giga-projects that are redefining the image of Saudi Arabia
Investments for NEOM’s first phase could reach SR1.2 trillion by 2030. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2022

The giga-projects that are redefining the image of Saudi Arabia

The giga-projects that are redefining the image of Saudi Arabia
  • Infrastructure investments aim to transform Kingdom into a tourism, entertainment and adventure destination
  • Driven by innovation and sustainability, the projects seek to to spur economic growth and develop digital infrastructure

JEDDAH: A little over six years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a social and economic blueprint that would transform the Kingdom. The plan, Vision 2030, set out to create a vibrant society, overhaul the nation’s economy, and reduce its dependence on oil.

In what was viewed as a turning point for the country, several “giga-projects” were launched to provide a focal point for whole new sectors, driven by technology, innovation and sustainability, to stimulate broader economic growth and develop the Kingdom’s digital infrastructure.

A rendering of the Grand Mosque at Diriyah. (Supplied)


Among these new giga-projects, underwritten by the nation’s PIF, or Public Investment Fund, is Diriyah — the Kingdom’s crown jewel — home to the first Saudi dynasty, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is undergoing a $50-billion revamp.

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

Diriyah’s mud-brick walls once housed a thriving desert city that was a powerhouse of culture and commerce. The area’s 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.

In July 2017, the 11-square-kilometer site became the subject of a painstaking restoration plan aimed at bringing its historical legacy back to life. Situated just 15 minutes’ drive from Riyadh, it will feature some of the world’s most luxurious hotels and restaurants built in traditional Najdi architectural style, alongside conservation areas and cultural venues, with a view to attract some 30 million visitors annually by 2030.

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.

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.

Qiddiya is Riyadh’s forthcoming entertainment, sports and culture hub. (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)


Also under development in the Riyadh region is Qiddiya, the Saudi capital’s forthcoming entertainment, sports and culture hub, which will feature theme parks, arenas, outdoor activities and motorsports.

The project is built on five main pillars: Sports and wellness, nature and environment, parks and attractions, motion and mobility, and arts and culture. Owned wholly by the PIF, its objective is to boost the Kingdom’s status as a leading tourist destination.

Over a total area of 334 square kilometers and a budget of $8 billion, construction began in early 2018. The latest contract is a $750-million joint venture between ALEC Saudi Arabia Engineering & Contracting and El Seif Engineering Contracting to build the Kingdom’s first water park — which is also tipped to be the region’s largest.

The Qiddiya Investment Company has also awarded a $1-billion contract to build Six Flags Qiddiya, which will contain 28 rides and attractions in six themed parks. It is one of the Kingdom’s most highly anticipated attractions.

A speed park will include an FIA grade-one racetrack dedicated to motorsports fans as well as a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest golfers of all time, open to elite and amateur players.

Qiddiya will also feature luxury tented retreats, animal encounters and outdoor adventure and exploration, several arts and culture centers, festival grounds, and a multiplex cinema.

AMAALA project’s first phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2024. (Supplied)

The Red Sea Project and AMAALA

It is not just the Riyadh region that is enjoying a flurry of investment. On the Red Sea coast in the far west of the Kingdom, two luxurious tourist destinations are under development, both with a strong emphasis on sustainability, conservation, culture and heritage.

Aiming to be a world leader in regenerative tourism, the Red Sea Project is a luxury, sustainable project spanning an impressive 34,000 square kilometers.

The Red Sea Development Company, established in 2018, is fully owned by the PIF. Directly employing 35,000 people, the project showcases the landscape and rich cultural heritage of the coast.

Occupying an archipelago of more than 90 islands — some of them untouched — featuring dormant volcanoes, deserts and a wide variety of wildlife and mountainous scenery, it will emphasize environmental preservation while relying exclusively on renewable energy sources, with a ban on single-use plastics and zero waste-to-landfill.

The region’s new dedicated Red Sea International Airport is already nearing completion and is set to open in 2023, while 50 resorts featuring 8,000 rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties are due for completion by 2030.

Last month, the Red Sea Development Company told Arab News that three of the 22 islands will be complete by 2024, hosting 16 hotels, three of which will be ready by next year, including the St. Regis Red Sea Resort at Ummahat Island.

It also announced the opening of its Turtle Bay Hotel and the completion of its 1.2-kilometer Shura Bridge connecting the mainland with its central island hub, and the first inland access roads over 16 kilometers connecting its Southern Dunes resort to the main highway. Around 200 villas and townhouses are now also complete at its Coastal Village.

Further to the north is Saudi Arabia’s ultra-luxury wellness retreat AMAALA, tailored for relaxation and meditation and sports enthusiasts. The initial development phase of the 3,300-square-kilometer site is set to conclude in late 2024 with the opening of nine hotels.

New attractions on Asir’s mountain peaks will turn the province into a year-round destination. (Shutterstock)


Down in the country’s southwest, the Kingdom’s highest mountain peaks are also getting a revamp. Last September, the crown prince announced a tourism strategy to develop Asir with an investment of $13 billion, to attract more than 10 million visitors by 2030.

The region’s picturesque green mountains, its fair weather, archeological sites, and dense forests that cannot be found anywhere else in the Kingdom, combined with its renowned hospitality, have attracted thousands of tourists in recent years.

New attractions on Asir’s mountain peaks will turn the province into a year-round destination, exploiting the tourism potential of its geographic and natural diversity, culture and heritage.

In addition, it will provide new jobs, boost quality of life, and upgrade essential services and infrastructure in the region. The PIF plans to set aside $3 billion to build 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units, and 30 commercial and entertainment attractions in Asir by 2030.

The Line is the flagship development in Saudi Arabia’s NEOM megacity project. (Supplied)


The Kingdom’s flagship and arguably its most ambitious giga-project is NEOM, first unveiled in 2017.

Located in the Kingdom’s northwest, the futuristic smart city will span 26,500 square kilometers and will be powered entirely by renewable clean energy, providing a model for sustainable living and development.

Three phases of the $500-billion project are currently underway, including Trojena, Oxagon and The Line.

Trojena, a high-altitude destination nestled between the northernmost ranges of the Sarawat mountains, will offer unique, all-year outdoor sports experiences, including the region’s first and only ski resort.

The project will also feature ultra-luxury family and wellness resorts, the region’s largest freshwater lake, an interactive nature reserve, and a range of dining and retail options. It is due for completion in 2026.

Oxagon, meanwhile, is a floating industrial and commercial hub, which will incorporate the most advanced technologies, from artificial intelligence to robotics, and will be powered entirely by clean energy.

Finally, The Line, a 200-meter-wide, 170-kilometer-long city that will accommodate 9 million residents, embodies how urban communities will live in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions, offering a new approach to urban design that will run on 100 percent renewable energy and prioritize people’s health.

According to the design plan, The Line will have an outer mirror facade that will provide the structure its unique character and allow even its small footprint to blend with nature.

Different from tall buildings, the concept layers public parks and pedestrian areas, schools, homes and places for work. The narrow design is intended to reduce the human-made footprint on the landscape and promote greater efficiency. The city will feature a high-speed rail link with an end-to-end transit time of just 20 minutes.

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.


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.

Entertainment authority announces Riyadh Calendar activities

Entertainment authority announces Riyadh Calendar activities
Updated 26 January 2023

Entertainment authority announces Riyadh Calendar activities

Entertainment authority announces Riyadh Calendar activities
  • Activities and entertainment zones will continue until mid-March

RIYADH: Riyadh Season 2022 and its wide range of entertainment options in the capital may have come to an end, but there are reasons to be happy following the General Entertainment Authority’s launch of the Riyadh Calendar.

In a statement to Arab News, the GEA said that Riyadh Calendar activities and entertainment zones will continue until mid-March.

The Groves, Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City and other zones will feature a variety of activities, with different dates and opening times.

Expected events include “Earth Voice Night” on Feb. 1, in honor of the late artist Talal Maddah, at Mohammed Abdo Theater in Boulevard Riyadh City.

Visitors can book for events through the Enjoy platform on the link:

Riyadh Season 2022 kicked off on Oct. 21 with more than 8,500 activities, under the slogan “Beyond Imagination.”

The Groves, Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City and other zones will feature a variety of activities, with different dates and opening times. (GEA)

The third season offered visitors a wide range of entertainment options across 15 zones, each characterized by a variety of activities and events, including stores, cafes, restaurants, games, theaters, and a number of new global experiences.

The zones include Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City, Winter Wonderland, Al-Murabaa, Sky Riyadh, Via Riyadh, Riyadh Zoo, Little Riyadh, The Groves, Imagination Park, Al-Suwaidi Park, Souq Al-Zel, Qariat Zaman, Fan Festival and Riyadh Front.

The Groves zone inside the Diplomatic Quarter offers visitors the experience of living in the North Pole through the ice lounge, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, with temperatures as low as minus 18 C.

Food, fashion and family fun are also available in the zone. Visitors can book tickets via the app.

A 35-meter-tall Light Ball, another highlight of Riyadh Season 2022, has become a new landmark in the capital and is the largest illuminated LED ball in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

Former Saudi national guardsman adds string to bow with archery medals

Former Saudi national guardsman adds string to bow with archery medals
Updated 26 January 2023

Former Saudi national guardsman adds string to bow with archery medals

Former Saudi national guardsman adds string to bow with archery medals
  • Mohammed Al-Shami picked up the sport of archery after losing his right hand in a terrorist attack in 2007 that forced his retirement

RIYADH: A former soldier in the Saudi Arabian National Guard has become a professional archer, winning a number of competitions and awards despite competing with a disability sustained in a terror attack.

Mohammed Al-Shami picked up the sport of archery after losing his right hand in a terrorist attack in 2007 that forced his retirement.

He was treated at King Saud Medical City and was sent to the Rehabilitation Hospital at King Fahd Medical City in Riyadh.

But Al-Shami’s physical disability failed to dent his positive outlook on life.

Ambition cannot stop in the face of “minor problems,” he told Arab News. Instead, Al-Shami believes that problems can give purpose and make people stronger.

Every day, Al-Shami, who usesa prosthetic hand, wakes up with a smile and spreads positivity.

His journey in archery commenced when he registered for the Kingdom Marathon at King Saud University.

“Captain Mishaal Al-Otaibi was explaining to visitors how to shoot … so I went to him and told him I wanted to try it. He looked at me and said ‘come later,’” Al-Shami said.

After waiting for three hours, Al-Shami again went to the captain, who told him to return once more after two hours.

When Al-Shami went back for the second time, he asked the captain: “Can handicapped people throw arrows or not?”

Al-Otaibi then gave a bow and arrow to the former guardsman and told him: “Go ahead, shoot.”

Al-Shami said: “I put the bowstring between my teeth, pulled it and threw it hard, and it settled in the middle of the target, in the bullseye. The captain was impressed. He then taught me how to develop my abilities.”

During the course of his rigorous training, Al-Shami shot 1,000 –1,200 arrows per day to improve his accuracy and technique.

He took part in the 2017 World Championships in Athletics for People with Disabilities at the Dubai Club for People of Determination, winning a gold medal.

Al-Shami also won gold and silver medals at the Sheikh Fazza Championship in the UAE in 2019.

His determination earned him third place in archery in the Kingdom’s My Disability Distinguishes evemt in 2022.

Al-Shami said that archery is the only sport that gives him determination and strengthens his focus.

In the future, he aspires to establish a charitable sports center for archery and taekwondo, where people of all ages can learn the basics of the sports and build bright futures for themselves.

“My biggest professional project is to help put Vision 2030 into action by building the biggest and most ambitious investment and charitable sports center. This will be a one-of-a-kind project with the goal of spreading and graduating professional teams in archery and taekwondo.”

Al-Shami hailed a 2019 decision by the Saudi Paralympic Committee to promote archery for people with disabilities around the Kingdom.