Saudi Arabia leads IPOs in GCC region: KAMCO Invest

Saudi Arabia emerging as a ‘continent in itself’ with array of tourist destinations, forum hears

RIYADH: Saudi giga-projects are shifting the country’s image from a religious destination to a multifaceted tourism hub, real estate experts claimed at special event in Riyadh.

Driven by the “clear vision” of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the nation is becoming a “continent” in itself, with a multitude of unique projects and destinations spanning from AlUla to the newly launched Qiddiyah, each of which serves a purpose in attracting tourists to the area. 

While Saudi Arabia “was, is, and will always be” known for Makkah and Madinah, with billions of Muslims converging in the nation for religious purposes, it is simultaneously evolving as a growing destination site globally, with giga-projects spearheading the Kingdom’s shift, highlighted Mohamad Itani, a partner at Knight Frank. 

Speaking during a panel at the Real Estate Future Forum, Itani affirmed that the change is highly evident when comparing modern-day Saudi Arabia to the perceptions from a decade ago. 

He said: “Today, each project serves a certain purpose. AlUla is emerging as a heritage and culture city. You have Qiddiyah, which is under development as an entertainment city. So as you will have multiple destinations within the different cities and this is why Saudi today is not only Makkah or Madinah, but the different cities that are being under development.”

Tareq Nabulsi, CEO advisor of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investments, affirmed the potential of catering to tourist destinations in each region, saying: “Going across the vast natural locations of the Kingdom, from the mountains of Abha, the desert terrain of AlUla and the beaches of Jeddah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a continent by itself.” 

He added: “I don’t think the exposure of the destinations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been elaborated or it hasn’t reached the pinnacle of where all of these destinations are gonna be created and more and more especially with the encouragement of the government in terms of the openness and allowing the private partnerships into the development of real estate across the Kingdom.”

Nabulsi continued: “I think so many new destinations will be will be announced and people will start not only identifying Saudi Arabia as a religious touristic destination but also other areas of the Kingdom.”

For the growing changes to be recognized globally, thus drawing more tourists, Santiago Conway, CEO of Conway and Partners, stressed the importance of utilizing the “business of imagination” that has driven the nation to this point and employing it through international media channels. 

The CEO outlined the need for “simplifying the message” for a global perspective and creating an “iconic” image rooted in the Kingdom’s culture and heritage. 

Conway said: “The business that we do in Saudi in this whole idea of this nation, I think we’re in the business of imagination here. His Majesty, Mohammed bin Salman, I think he had a very clear vision, and he imagined something.”

He added: “One thing that in my opinion, I think we need to do from the Saudi global perspective is we need to simplify a little bit the message abroad. I think we need to make a very strong, unique iconic message abroad.” 

To achieve this, the executive stressed that the destination is not independent from the preceding experience. Instead, the shift in perception is a “full circle,” beginning at the airport and extending through “Arab hospitality” aboard the airlines and beyond.