The Red Sea in Saudi Arabia
The Red Sea Project lies on the Western coast of Saudi Arabia, and covers 28,000 square kilometres, 200 km of coastline and an archipelago of 90 untouched islands. Image Credit: Supplied

Riyadh: Over the course of history, cities tend to make a name for themselves and can be described in one word. While Dubai is known as the City of Gold, and Paris is the City of Love, Riyadh is making a name for itself as the City of Welcome.

In the words of tourism and entertainment impresario Jerry Inzerillo, chief executive officer of Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), “Riyadh can also be the city of gathering, as well as the city of heritage. Its all of the above. It is also a very warm and very generous society in one of the single most beautiful countries in the world when it comes to topography.”

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO, Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

Speaking to Gulf News in Riyadh on the side-lines of Saudi’s announcement to launch tourism visas to the Kingdom, Inzerillo explained how the giga project of Ad Diriyah will revolutionise the perception of visitors and become the focal point for ecotourism and heritage in the region.

What is Ad Diriyah?

Located northwest of Riyadh, Ad Diriyah is home to the Unesco heritage site of At-Turaif District – the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty.

“One of the first places that people will go to is Ad Diriyah because its where the kingdom originated. It was the original gathering place and now it will be the gathering place for the entire world,” said Inzerillo.

The aim of the DGDA is to transform Ad Diriyah into three ways; Firstly, to become one of the great gathering places in the world. Secondly, to make sure that people are welcomed, in ways consistent with Saudi society. And lastly, to continue to develop opportunities for young, educated and passionate Saudis in terms of careers and tourism.

“The first immediate project that visitors can look forward to in 2020 is that we will introduce and open the world officially to the Unesco world heritage site of At-Turaif. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques [King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia] has spent the last 20 years restoring it and it is breathtakingly gorgeous.”

The first phase of Ad Diriyah is expected to be completed by 2023, and with it, will be eight new museums, including the largest Islamic museum in the world – the new House of Al Saud, in addition to 30 new hotels and over 100 different entertainment activities.

The Red Sea Project

The Red Sea Project is one of the world’s most ambitious luxury tourism development, which aims to set new standards in sustainable development while maintaining the natural environment.

Covering 28,000 square kilometres, a bit smaller than the size of Belgium, the Red Sea Project on the Western coast of Saudi Arabia includes 200 km of coastline and an archipelago of 90 untouched islands, volcanoes, desert, mountains, natural treasures and a variety of wildlife.

John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Company, told Gulf News that a significant first phase of the project will open in 2022.

John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Company

“The lack of infrastructure now is a blessing and a curse as even though it is expensive, you get to do it right in keeping with the overarching philosophy of the project, which is sustainability. The Red Sea has an amazing natural environment has the fourth largest coral reef system in the world but significantly, it is one of the only coral reef system that is still thriving today, despite global warming and bleaching events.”

The Red Sea project aims to serve a lot of different purposes for different people with the entire project being inspired by nature.

“By the backend of 2022, we will open up around 3,000 hotel keys, brand new airport and all the enabling infrastructure. Given that our focus is on sustainability and environmental conservation, we are going to be using 100 per cent renewable energy 24 hours a day,” he pointed out.

Once the project is launched, the destination will operate as a Special Economic Zone with its own laws and regulatory framework, specially created to encourage investment opportunities and commercial activities.

“The special economic zone will serve a number of different purposes and within that, we will address a number of social norms which means that we will be able to allow Western norms to exist happily within the destination,” explained Pagano.

Hotel boom

Representing one of the first international hotel chains to have opened in Makkah back in 1993, Rudi Jagersbacher, president of Hilton in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, explained how the hotel industry will shift from capturing religious tourism to the current tourism market today.

Rudi Jagersbacher, president of Hilton in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey

“You have similar barriers in terms of visas, behavioural styles and services, but what’s important is the recruitment of human capital. The latest initiative is fantastic for everybody and not just from a tourism point of view, which of course is great,” said Jagersbacher.

“We can already see the enjoyment of local communities to remain in Saudi rather than going to different destinations on holidays because of the various changes that have taken place.”