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.

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
Updated 40 sec ago

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
  • Kingdom’s key role in regional publishing outlined on conference final day

RIYADH: The second edition of the International Publishers Conference held in Riyadh ended on Wednesday with sessions focusing on the growing demand for audiobooks, the impact of technology and data services, and the search for ways to innovate and renew education.

The event, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, introduced a session themed “Stages of the Global Book Publishing Industry.”

Abdul Karim Al-Aqeel, president of the Saudi Publishing Association, told the session that the Kingdom plays an important role in the growth of the regional publishing business.

Saudi Arabia “has 300 publishing houses, 1,000 individual writers, and reading is popular among 31 percent of the population,” he said.

The two-day conference was attended by Secretary-General of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Mohammed Radwan. 

The event held eight interactive sessions and five workshops to discuss key aspects of the book and publishing industry, review future prospects and read current market trends.

Mohammed Zatara, founder of Wajeez for Audiobooks, said that the format helped to expand public knowledge “because an audiobook can be accessed any time and any place, whether one is going to work or working out at the gym.”

Sebastian Bond, head of the Middle East and Northern Africa at Storytel, said improving the audiobook business requires collaboration between traditional publishers and their audio counterparts to ensure enriching and enlightening content.

Ibraheem Al-Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing, told Arab News that the standard of authorship is “extremely high in the domains of creative books, as well as professional and educational books.” 

Ibraheem Al Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing. (Supplied)

However, he believes that “this trend does not exist in the market due to the difficulty of publishing houses to absorb it and because readers are not attracted by the new authors.”

Al-Sinan said that authors have become part of the so-called content industry, particularly in the film-writing, series and marketing content sectors, “because of high financial return” in these fields.

Publishing has expanded recently with the inclusion of audiobooks and electronic books, “because of the society’s interest in new audio media such as podcasts,” he added.

Audiobooks are recognized as the fastest-growing and most acceptable format, but “are still not as popular as paper books,” Al-Sinan said.

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association, believes that the presence of “podcasts” as a content channel has had an impact on the widespread and acceptance of audiobooks. 

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association. (Supplied)

Alsalem predicted a bright future for publishing in the region, particularly in translation and better reader access via traditional and digital channels, indicating “A promising future for publication.”

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, said that artificial intelligence is “inevitably coming,” and that it will help publishers to upgrade their profession and professional development. 

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

He believes that while audiobooks are now expensive to produce, “one day they will be the basic material on which the writer relies.”

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution, said that the publishing future is thriving locally and regionally because of local and international book fairs, which have helped considerably in the evolution of the publishing sector. 

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

Salih Al-Hammad, founder of Rashm House for Publishing and Distribution, said that although audiobooks are having a growing impact, “paper books have kept their shine and quality.”

He said: “When we talk about audiobooks today, we talk about a few categories of readers associated with the concept of a detained reader, any reader who is in a hospital, on a train, or on an airplane. Book authorship has gone through phases, and books will remain and won’t disappear, just like radios remained when TVs were invented.”

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
Updated 30 min 19 sec ago

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
  • Domestic shortfall predicted as surging LNG prices push Pakistan out of short-term market
  • South Asian nation relies on imports through long-term contracts with Qatar and ENI

KARACHI: Pakistan is bracing for a harsh winter this year amid skyrocketing prices of liquefied natural gas on the global market and record currency depreciation at home.

Analysts are warning of increasing gas outages during peak winter hours as the south Asian country struggles to meet domestic demand.

Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with winter demand peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.

Pakistan began importing LNG seven years ago. However, the price of the commodity on the international spot, or short-term, market has risen from lows of $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in 2020 to highs of $57 in August this year after demand in Europe surged, pushing Islamabad out of the market.

At present, the country relies on imported LNG cargoes through long-term contracts with Qatar and Italian multinational ENI. The agreements allow the country to import about eight cargoes per month, four short of the required 12 to meet the shortfall.

An official from Pakistan LNG Limited, a state-owned entity mandated to import LNG, told Arab News on Tuesday that the country is currently importing long-term cargoes from Qatar and ENI.

With the spot LNG market out of reach, many Pakistani analysts predict shortages will make the coming winter tough for domestic gas consumers.

Pakistan imported its last LNG cargo from Qatar at $17 per mmBtu under a long-term supply agreement.

“Normally the demand in winter increases by around 1 bcfd,” Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities, told Arab News. “As this year Pakistan is unlikely to secure cargoes from the spot market, it is expected that shortfall and load shedding of gas will be higher than last year.”

He added: “With LNG prices currently hovering around $38 per mmBtu and the Pakistani rupee trading at historic lows amid depleting forex reserves, the government may not venture to import costly gas, rather it would prefer to save dollars.”

PLL did not receive any bid in response to a tender floated in July 2022 to import 10 cargoes of LNG.

Pakistan’s woes were compounded after Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, and European countries rushed to secure gas supplies from LNG-producing countries as Moscow slowed gas flows westwards.

The Kremlin has accused the West of triggering the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Russian President Vladimir Putin said is akin to a declaration of economic war.

“The Russia-Ukraine war has also disrupted the international market and European countries have rushed to secure cargoes for winter as demand has increased substantially there,” Mahmood added.

However, some experts believe gas outages will be comparatively low this winter, with additional electricity generation compensating for the high demand.

“By December this year, some 1320MW of electricity will be added to the national grid with the commissioning of three coal-fired power plants in Thar, Sindh, that will compensate the gas demand,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“There will definitely be a shortfall of gas, but it will not be as severe as last year, keeping in view the additional electricity generation.”

Pakistan’s winter policy of diverting gas supplies from the power sector to domestic consumers also affects industrial production.

This year, the government is expected to encourage consumers to switch to electricity by offering incentives to save gas for industrial and heating purposes.

In another bid to secure long-term supplies of gas, PLL has invited bids for 72 LNG cargoes from international suppliers across a six-year period. The results of the tender will be decided on Oct. 3 when the bids are opened.

Pakistan’s LNG imports fell by 3.37 percent to $629.4 million during July and August compared with the same period last year.

Energy imports increased by 105.3 percent to $23.3 billion during the last fiscal year, including LNG imports, which rose by 90.6 percent to $4.98 billion, according to official data.


British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
Updated 36 min 56 sec ago

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
  • Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
  • The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter

LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.

The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.

After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.

Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.

His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.

Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”

Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”

She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”

Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”

The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change
Updated 54 min 4 sec ago

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

MAKKAH: Hajj and Umrah government officials have alerted pilgrims around the world about an important update and name change to a key services and permits app for the Two Holy Mosques.

Launching the newly named Nusuk app, an update on the Eatmarna platform, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said visitors and worshippers would be able to access a range of e-services including applying for a visa and booking hotels and flights.

Hajj and Umrah services adviser, Ahmed Saleh Halabi, told Arab News: “During the past few years, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has been keen to switch to the e-government system to add ease to the experience of pilgrims and visitors. As such, their experience will be forever remembered as an enriched religious journey.”

He pointed out that the portal allowed users to select from a list of service packages.

“The program will provide the pilgrims with a cultural and religious journey, while reflecting the bright and civilized side of the Kingdom in the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

The platform has been designed to provide services and information to help worshippers perform rituals with ease and is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives to improve service offerings and the quality of religious experience.

Ahmed Bajaiffer, an investor in Umrah companies, said: “Nusuk is the representation of the strong will of the Kingdom’s leaders and their loyalty toward Muslims, citizens, and residents.”

Nusuk has been launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website, Visit Saudi Arabia.

Head of the World Hajj and Umrah Convention, Mohsin Tutla, told Arab News: “What Nusuk has developed resonates with the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation’s vision toward enhancing the pilgrim’s experience.

“When traveling to a foreign country, visitors may often feel anxiety or even fear; for many, Arabic is not their first language, and trying to make sense of the cultural practices of a new country at times can be difficult.”

Via the platform, Hajj and Umrah performers can receive visit or Umrah visas with the option to buy a service package and pay electronically.

“The launch of this service sends a strong message with it: We are listening, we are caring, and we will provide the solutions to continually enrich your experience, and we do it with passion, as the Kingdom sees serving pilgrims as a privilege and obligation,” Tutla added.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, more than 21.5 million Umrah and Hajj performers had registered with the Eatmarna app since its launch, and it has issued 6.4 million permits to visit and pray at Al-Rawdah Al-Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
Updated 28 September 2022

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
  • Prince Khalid bin Salman said the ministry will continue to follow the path set by his predecessor, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new minister of defense, Prince Khalid bin Salman, met senior ministry officials in his office on Wednesday.

Formerly the deputy defense minister, his appointment was announced on Tuesday as part of a cabinet reshuffle. He takes over from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed prime minister.

Prince Khalid gave a speech in which he thanked King Salman and the crown prince for the trust they have placed in him. He said the close attention his predecessor paid to the work of the Ministry of Defense had resulted the launch of its development program, which reflects the crown prince’s belief in efforts to maintain the highest standards of military development.

He stressed that the ministry will continue to follow the path set by the crown prince to become a modern institution staffed by professional and joint military forces capable of protecting homeland security from external threats, and leading alliances with high degrees of competency.