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Saudi Arabia is investing billions of dollars into its first-ever entertainment city, which is set to be the world’s largest tourist destination by 2030. Saudi Arabia’s future capital of entertainment, sports, and arts is called Qiddiya and its supposed to be the world’s most vibrant, livable, and innovative destination for everything fun.
Despite being set to open in 2024, Qiddiya already rivals major entertainment destinations like Disney World. In fact, it is three times larger than Disney World!
The Saudi government hopes to boost tourism in the city in order to develop a new economic growth engine for the economy which has depended on oil for so long. But will Qiddiya achieve everything the Kingdom hopes, or will it be another waste of the Kingdom’s capital?
Disney World in Saudi Arabia
Under the guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 launched in 2016 with three main goals: enhancing the country’s global profile, modernizing the society at par with cultural traditions, and diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil.
The Saudi government is especially focused on the last goal, since Saudi Arabia is the world’s third most oil-reliant country, and petroleum exports account for 40% of the country’s GDP.
However, it’s no longer viable for the Kingdom to rely on oil since estimates show that its oil reserves will completely run out in 60 years. Also, the country’s oil revenues are expected to decline drastically by 2040 because of decreases in global demand. As a result, plans were made to increase tourism in Saudi Arabia and position it as a hub for entertainment, leading to the creation of Qiddiya.
Along with other Saudi megaprojects like Neom City, the Jeddah Economic City, and the Red Sea project, this multibillion-dollar project is meant to transform Saudi Arabia’s image by turning Qiddiya into a global entertainment destination. It is set to become the world’s largest entertainment city – triple the size of Florida’s Walt Disney World.
Visitors to the entertainment city will get the opportunity to experience more than 300 facilities, including theme parks, cultural attractions, water parks, a sports city, and adventure experiences. In addition to that, the city will be home to multiple shopping and dining options, a multiplex cinema, an aquatic center, a performing arts theater, and a motorsports facility.
The CEO of Qiddiya, Philippe Gas, who was the president of the company behind Disneyland Paris and in his most recent position was president and managing director of Walt Disney Attractions Japan & Disney International, described Qiddiya as an incredibly exciting project that will combine entertainment, sports, and the arts on an unprecedented scale.
Just 45 kilometers away from the Saudi capital Riyadh, Qiddiya promises so much entertainment just based on its size and location. It spans an area of 366 square kilometers, and is conveniently situated for international visitors since its just one hour away from the King Khaled International Airport by car.
Saudi and French construction companies, Almabani General Contractors and Bouygues Bâtiment International, are developing the theme part at a total cost of $1 billion. But do the attractions live up to the price tag?
Qiddiya will be home to the world’s largest Six Flags theme park, known as Six Flags Qiddiya. Set to open in October 2024, the theme park will include six themed areas, each offering an impressive line-up of record-breaking rides.
But the theme park’s main attraction is Falcon’s Flight, an exciting ride spanning 4 kilometers and reaching a speed of approximately 249 kilometers per hour. In addition to its impressive speed, the ride reaches unprecedented heights of over 600 feet into the sky. When it opens, it will overtake Ferrari World’s Formula Rossa ride in Abu Dhabi, which reaches a speed of 240 kilometers per hour, and claim the title of the world’s fastest roller coaster.
Along with the Six Flags theme park, Qiddiya will become home to Saudi Arabia’s first-ever water park. Thanks to this, it will become the only water park in the world to offer a unique mix of wet and dry rides.
The water park alone has a budget of $750 million and will cover 252,000 square meters. It features nine themed areas named after native animals inhabiting the area surrounding Qiddiya. It will also be built in line with the Crown Prince’s sustainability vision using designs to help minimize water usage through recycling and smart practices. Thanks to this, some rides in the water park will use 75% less water than those in other water parks.
Additionally, Qiddiya will have museums and centers for art, festival grounds, cinemas, and plazas for art enthusiasts from all around the world to indulge in. Besides this, Qiddiya will also cater to sports lovers offering a stadium with the capacity to hold more than 40,000 people in addition to VIP seats and corporate hospitality lounges. It also features an aquatic center for water sports, training centers, and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus – one of the greatest golfers of all time.
Finally, a motorsport racing circuit will be established in the park. It will be similar to Monaco’s famous street circuit, with a 7.8-kilometer-long track.
Aside from the entertainment the racing circuit will offer, such as karting, passenger rides, and driving experiences, it will also include academies and schools for racing education. This is in order to boost the motorsport industry in Saudi Arabia and allow the country to hold its own local events and tournaments on a regular basis.
More than an Entertainment City
In addition to all these attractions, the Qiddiya project will also include residential areas and plans to house 10,000 people when it’s officially open in 2024. The project is expected to have around 4,000 residential units completed by 2025, and that number is then expected to increase to 11,000 units by 2030.
This isn’t all, as very recently, the investment company behind Qiddiya started preparing to award an estimated $500 million for the construction of more roads, utilities and tunnels in the city. The contractors, which are all Saudi companies, had until the end of November to submit their final offers. After the bidding is over, the developments will most likely start in January of next year.
Qiddiya & Economic Diversification
It was only a matter of time before a global entertainment city emerged in Saudi Arabia since more than 60% of the Kingdom’s population is under 30. With a young and growing population, Qiddiya will have access to a growing consumer base right at its front door.
Along with entertainment, Qiddiya will also offer Saudi Arabia economic growth in line with the country’s 2030 vision. The project is meant to house 10,000 people and generate 25,000 jobs, which will, in turn, will contribute up to $4.5 billion to the country’s GDP by 2030.
In just its early stages of development , the project employed 500 people, of which 60% are Saudi nationals.
However, most of the economic growth is expected come from increased tourism once Qiddiya is complete. The nation’s focus on tourism runs even deeper than Qiddiya since there are even plans to build a $1 billion tourism and hospitality school in the Qiddiya area.
The school, which will be open to students from all over the world, appears to be part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy to not only empower the next generation of tourism and hospitality world leaders, but to also establish itself as a leader in the tourism industry. By 2030, it will have the capacity for more than 25,000 students per year and offer a convenient hybrid curriculum combining vocational and academic education.
Also by 2030, Qiddiya aims to draw 17 million international visitors from the entertainment sector, 2 million from the hospitality sector, and 12 million from the shopping sector. If these goals are met, then all together it would add $4.53 billion to the country’s GDP.
While Qiddiya would definitely put Saudi Arabia on the map in terms of entertainment, even without it the Kingdom’s other strategies are starting to bear fruit. According to the World Tourism Organization the Kingdom ranked second globally in terms of its growth rate of foreign tourists during the first seven months of 2023. A 58% increase compared to the same period in 2019.
The Future of Qiddiya
Overall, Qiddiya perfectly aligns with Saudi Arabia’s goals for a diverse and sustainable economy. As the Kingdom’s oil reserves are further depleted and the world transitions away from oil, it becomes increasingly imperative for the country to encourage growth in new industries. Investors have already seen the PIF’s investments in Lucid Motors and efforts to encourage manufacturing by establishing one of Lucid’s plants in Jeddah.
However, tourism and entertainment is quite different from manufacturing. Not to mention, Qiddiya will have to contend with the country’s hot climate, geopolitical risks, and cultural traditions which have not necessarily encouraged tourism in the past.
Yet, the global entertainment city represents a bold leap forward, and could help create a better Saudi Arabia – one that is modern, diverse and rich in culture. With its multiple attractions and unique blend of arts, sports and entertainment, it isn’t impossible for Qiddiya to achieve all of these economic goals and more.
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