Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the ground-breaking ceremony of a vast entertainment resort that is at the heart of an ambitious strategy to open the economy and ease social restrictions.
Qiddiya, about an hour’s drive from Riyadh, is being built on a 334 square kilometresite, making it about 2.5 times the size of Disney World, and is set to include a Six Flags theme park, water parks, motor sports, cultural events, and vacation homes. A spokesman said Qiddiya expects to attract 1.5 million visitors annually when the first phase opens in 2022, according to Reuters.
Local media have reported the cost of the infrastructure alone would reach up to SAR30 billion and the project would eventually be worth tens of billions of riyals. Reuters reported that around 50 people are directly employed by Qiddiya, with hundreds more contracted as local suppliers and global advisors. Those numbers are expected to reach 55,000 by 2022.
The launch comes shortly after the Kingdom opened its first cinema after a nearly four-decade ban. When asked whether social restrictions in place in other parts of Saudi Arabia, such as gender segregation and a strict dress code for women, would apply, CEO Michael Reininger said Qiddiya would stay “on the leading edge” of changes in the kingdom, which has eased many of those rules in recent years.
Reininger told Reuters that Qiddiya was seeking a broad range of financing from local and international sources, with bonds, direct investment and other tools to supplement the majority contribution from the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
Asked about avoiding the pitfalls of other mega projects in the region, which have suffered long delays and cost overruns and sometimes fell far short of expected returns, Reininger said Qiddiya stood apart by fulfilling a clear economic need.
PIF has two other major initiatives: NEOM—a $500 billion business and industrial zone extending into Egypt and Jordan, and a Red Sea project, which includes a nature reserve, diving in coral reefs and heritage sites on about 50 islands, according to Reuters.