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A $20 billion uber-tourism project will be hitting major landmarks in the first few months of 2022. The Diriyah Gate will be getting its first residents and visitors showing up. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The first attractions that shape Saudi Arabia’s multiple multi-billion dollar tourism developments will soon come into sight.

The $20 billion Diriyah Gate project will start delivery from the first quarter of 2022, according to Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority. “We are going to be delivering assets at the end of the first phase,” he said. “We are going to be delivering 19 restaurants; we have our first hotel and museum under construction, we planted 22,000 trees (and) got our first parks coming.”

Which will be the ideal setting for people to start coming. “We're ready… we're looking forward to it.”

Diriyah Gate, as part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 programme, will showcase the country’s history through a curated mix of heritage, hospitality, education, retail and dining experiences. It is expected to have a population of more than 100,000 and 25 million visitors annually.

This and other giga-destinations – NEOM City, AlUla, et al – will transform Saudi Arabia’s tourism prospects, which currently is reliant on religious visitors. Domestic tourism and hotel stays too will get an impetus from these destinations.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, is charting the project towards its first phase milestones, whether on construction or the opening. Ahmed Ramzan and Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News

Re-thinking investments

Although international investors are more interested in Diriyah than ever before, they don’t seem to know what to expect. “We had a lot of interest, especially on the commercial side of hotels, restaurants and retail,” the CEO said. “That interest is exactly the way it was before the COVID.

However, due to the pandemic, “They want to be there, but haven't determined how much equity [they need to commit]. That will be worked out once they know where the business is going in 2021…”

Meanwhile, the project is seeing “enormous” interest from Gulf investors, particularly Saudis. “We're doing amazingly well with investors, and it's in the billions,” said Inzerillo.

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No scrimping on the green... Diriyah Gate will have 22,000 trees and then some. Image Credit: Supplied

No cutbacks

Even though the pandemic may have made some investors shy, Saudi Arabia never scaled back on the project. “Most of the G20, including some of the great tourism countries of the world, had substantially cutback,” said Inzerillo. “We're on time, we're on budget… and we're full speed ahead.”

Saudi Arabia has launched a SR3 trillion ($800 billion) plan to reshape Riyadh in the next decade and transform it into the Middle East’s top economic, social and cultural hub. “The national the tourism strategy is to attract 200 million visitors, which we feel very confident we can get,” said Inzerillo. “We already have 16 million, but those are from pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, which will go up to 30 million.”

Even if things are slow on the international side, Saudi Arabia and Diriyah have a large domestic market to rely upon. During the pandemic, Saudi Arabia “had one of the highest visitor numbers in the world,” said Inzerillo, adding that this was a result of Saudi nationals flocking to domestic tourist spots.