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Six Flags Qiddiya| Saudi Arabia | Theme Park

Rzx

Roller Poster
I guess by the end of this month track will be completed. But how much work is needed before testing?
 

Hyde

Matt SR
Staff member
Moderator
Social Media Team
Good coverage in the latest Economist edition covering the broader tourism development strategy of Saudi Arabia. When you’re playing with $800B, it’s funny how the world’s largest, fastest, tallest, longest roller coaster is only a blip on the roadmap: https://econ.st/3WePhoX
 

Hyde

Matt SR
Staff member
Moderator
Social Media Team
Too bad you have to pay to read it :(
Voici:

Recent events in Saudi Arabia have not been a good advert for tourism. Between 2m and 3m Muslims visit the country each year for the hajj, the annual five-day pilgrimage that all Muslims aspire to do at least once. Last month, as temperatures exceeded 50°C, more than 1,300 people died, many from heat stress. The country’s authorities have been castigated for failing to take care of the pilgrims.

Despite the calamities this year, believers will still flock to the desert kingdom. In 2023 some 13.5m people came for the umrah, a lesser pilgrimage that takes place all year round. But for many non-Muslims, the conservative country is not high on their travel bucket lists. Saudi Arabia is better known for its crude-oil reserves, autocratic governance and use of the death penalty than for its sightseeing or luxury resorts.

Saudi authorities are eager to change that. Tourism is a key part of Vision 2030, an economic-reform plan announced in 2016. Muhammad bin Salman (mbs), the crown prince and de facto ruler, is the driving force behind the strategy, which is designed to promote new industries, create jobs and eventually wean the economy off oil. mbs sees Vision 2030 as a way to improve the country’s image—and his own.

The numbers sound impressive: the government says it is investing $800bn in the tourism sector. (The sum includes some spending on Neom, a vast development in the north-west that is not all about tourism and has been beset by problems.) Since 2019 tourism has risen from 3.6% to 4.5% as a share of gdp; the aim is to reach 10% by 2030. If achieved, that would make the sector a far bigger part of the economy than in tourism heavyweights such as France and Spain. There is plenty of supply, then, but what about demand?

Currently most tourists are locals. Of the 100m trips taken in the country in 2023, 79m were taken by Saudis. But the number of international tourist arrivals to Saudi Arabia is rising fast (albeit from a lower base than its competitors). According to the un World Tourism Organisation, Saudi ranked third in tourism growth in 2023 when compared with pre-pandemic rates. The goal is 150m tourists annually by 2030. The government is targeting rich visitors who live relatively close, particularly those from China, Europe and India.

The people who do travel to Saudi Arabia tend to have some kind of connection to the country: in 2022 only 2.5m visited for pure leisure purposes rather than for business or religion or to see family and friends. It has rather a lot of catching up to do if it wants to rival Britain, say, which attracted 12m fun-loving foreigners that year.

Nonetheless there has been a wholesale change in the kingdom’s attitude towards outsiders. Visas used to be hard to get. They limited pilgrims to the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina, and lasted only as long as the pilgrimage. Before 2019 entry for non-religious tourists was impossible.

Today e-visas are available almost instantly to citizens of 66 countries; people can stay for up to three months. The six members of the Gulf Co-operation Council plan to offer their own version of the Schengen visa, allowing tourists to travel through the region on a single permit.

In the past, Saudi Arabia emphasised its Islamic history to the exclusion of all else. Today, to widen its appeal, it draws attention to its pre-Islamic past as well. Al Ula, around 350km from Medina, boasts some of the finest remains of the Nabataean civilisation after those at Petra in Jordan. More than 2,000 years ago the Nabataeans carved tombs into the hulking rocks; the inscriptions, sphinxes and griffins have survived the constant erosion of the sand. Tour guides point out shrines to the goddesses Uzza, Manat and Allat.

Such ancient sites give Saudi Arabia an advantage over its regional rivals, according to Allan Schwartzman, a member of the advisory board for the Royal Commission for Al Ula. In other countries religious extremists have destroyed evidence of pre-Islamic history, such as the city of Palmyra in Syria and the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, once one of the great tourist attractions of the Silk Road. Not everyone is pleased with this new approach to the past, however. Saad al-Fagih, a dissident in exile, thinks that mbs is trying to sponsor a pagan revival: “It’s like Druids taking over Britain and replacing Westminster Abbey with Stonehenge.”

A decade ago a visit to Al Ula was an endurance test. One Saudi woman says the single hotel there was so unappealing that she slept in her car rather than risk staying in it. The tombs were roped off. Now the experience is rather different. At sunrise visitors can glide over the ruins in hot-air balloons. Air-conditioned buses take visitors to a centre where they can buy gelato before going to visit the tombs. Where women were once shut away behind closed doors, the guides now include women who delight in describing burial rites. Music plays through speakers in Al Ula’s old town, giving the site a Disneyland feel.

Luxury accommodation is a key part of the great touristic vision. People should think of Saudi Arabia as the new Maldives, enthuses one hotelier, pointing to the turquoise waters of the Red Sea. At the newly opened St Regis, on a private island in Al Wajh Lagoon, visitors can stay in villas floating over the water. Hilton, an American chain, aims to quadruple the number of its hotels in the kingdom to 100; many of them are already under construction. Ironically, for a country built on oil wealth, these resorts tout their eco-credentials. The St Regis bans single-use plastic on its site. Red Sea Global, the developer behind the project, makes much of its plans to protect the area’s coral reefs.

But Saudi Arabia is spreading its bets. If ancient ruins and hotel rooms that start at $1,500 a night don’t appeal to visitors, perhaps big sporting events will. In 2029 the kingdom will host the Asian Winter Games at a “planned” mountain resort in the Neom development; it is bidding to host the football World Cup in 2034.

The government is also hoping to establish Saudi as a cultural hotspot by building scores of museums and hosting music events such as Soundstorm, a rave in the desert. A short drive from Al Ula is Maraya, a mirrored concert hall (pictured on previous page), which has hosted the likes of Lauryn Hill, an American rapper.

Celebrity chefs including Wolfgang Puck have opened eateries in Riyadh to cater to the demands of hungry visitors. Gymkhana, a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in London, has established an offshoot in Riyadh. So have Sarabeth’s, a popular New York brunch spot, and Angelina, a Parisian café.

The tourism board has clearly thought long and hard about what makes for an attractive destination. Its determined efforts are creating a sense of buzz. But challenges remain. One is that much of the country is blisteringly hot for large parts of the year, and climate change will make the heat even less bearable. Another is that many Western tourists like a cold beer by the pool. Rumours abound that the laws prohibiting alcohol may change in the near future—as they have in nearby places such as the United Arab Emirates—but for now the country remains almost completely dry. And the latest unrest in the Middle East taints Saudi Arabia by association, even if the kingdom itself is safe to visit.

Above all, the country has an image problem. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist; the stifling of political speech; the limits on the rights of women: all loom large in many outsiders’ impressions of the kingdom. Many remain unaware of its recent transformation. People still wonder whether they can wear shorts or if they can stay in the same room as their wives, says Jerry Inzerillo, who is in charge of developing Diriyah, a mud-brick city that was originally the home of the Saudi royal family. (The shorts depend on the location, but wives are welcome.)

Some potential visitors worry that tourism, like sport and big art projects, is being used to launder the country’s reputation for human-rights abuses and as a fossil-fuel producer. When Saudi Arabia started welcoming holiday-makers in 2019, social-media stars were lambasted for posting photos from sponsored jollies. Accusations that Saudi forces have been told to use lethal force to clear land for The Line, part of Neom, will not help change outsiders’ perceptions of the kingdom.

The country’s new tourism slogan implores people to: “Go Beyond What You Think.” Many travellers may find that too difficult. But officials in Saudi Arabia are putting their faith in another, time-worn maxim: “Build it and they will come.” ■
 

JoshC.

Strata Poster
$800B.

800. Billion. Dollars.

$800,000,000,000.

That is...incomprehensible.

To use the old comparison:
1 day is 86,400 seconds.
1 million seconds is about 11.5 days.
1 billion seconds is about 31.7 years.
800 billion seconds is just under 25 and a half millennia.

To put that in context:
25,000 years ago is when it is thought that humans first trod on what is now North American soil. It's also thought this is when dogs started to become domesticated to some degree

In other words, it's a heck of a lot.
 

Hyde

Matt SR
Staff member
Moderator
Social Media Team
$800B.

800. Billion. Dollars.

$800,000,000,000.

That is...incomprehensible.

To use the old comparison:
1 day is 86,400 seconds.
1 million seconds is about 11.5 days.
1 billion seconds is about 31.7 years.
800 billion seconds is just under 25 and a half millennia.

To put that in context:
25,000 years ago is when it is thought that humans first trod on what is now North American soil. It's also thought this is when dogs started to become domesticated to some degree

In other words, it's a heck of a lot.
(Sourced from CoPilot) Here are some countries with a GDP of $800 billion or less:

  1. Switzerland - Approximately $808 billion
  2. Poland - Approximately $688 billion
  3. Argentina - Approximately $633 billion
  4. Sweden - Approximately $586 billion
  5. Norway - Approximately $579 billion
  6. Belgium - Approximately $579 billion
  7. Ireland - Approximately $529 billion
  8. Israel - Approximately $522 billion
  9. United Arab Emirates - Approximately $508 billion
  10. Thailand - Approximately $495 billion
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
$800 billion is also more than two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's GDP. Even if it's spread out over many years, it remains a monumental expense. Especially since the country isn't that rich when its size is factored in. Saudi Arabia's GDP per capita is on par with Estonia or Slovenia. Approximately a third of the US. Roughly the same as Japan, which has been in economic stagnation for the past quarter of a century.

It could be that the sum is counting expected foreign investment, which is often assumed to be a rather high percentage of the total project cost. Take the famous NEOM project, for instance. It was set to cost something like $500 billion, of which half would be government investment and half would come from private investors. But then they only found a couple billion dollars in foreign investment, which left the government to carry almost the entire bill - so the project was massively downscaled. Other projects may not have the government backing anywhere near as high as 50%. If it is 10%, each billion the government plans to spend would count as 10 billion towards that 800 billion figure. And of course, if the project has to be cancelled due to a lack of funding - which is almost certain to happen to many of them - the government presumably wouldn't spend much at all.

It's been a long time since I stopped paying much heed to the announcements of megaprojects in the Middle East, and started counting only those that came to be realized and operating as planned. That's a depressingly small percentage of them.
 

CedarPoint6

Hyper Poster
Now that I'm living here and working on these projects, I have a better understanding of the amount of projects and levels of spend. Almost all of these are through the Private Investment Fund (PIF) and it almost certainly includes both public and private investment. There's some crazy ambitious stuff which I always enjoy seeing-- it's cool to see audacious projects when there's money to fund it.

Although it's unlikely that all announced projects will make it to opening, there's quite a few underway already among resorts, these parks in Qiddya, FECs like the SEVEN installs, and stuff around NEOM (which is more than just the Line). It's fairly impressive. Even if 50% of these things get completed (heck, even 20%), I think it will be an impressive array of installations at an international standard which is really going to change the tourism market here both domestically and internationally.

Excited to see how it all develops.
 

Furiustobaco

Mega Poster
Now that I'm living here and working on these projects, I have a better understanding of the amount of projects and levels of spend. Almost all of these are through the Private Investment Fund (PIF) and it almost certainly includes both public and private investment. There's some crazy ambitious stuff which I always enjoy seeing-- it's cool to see audacious projects when there's money to fund it.

Although it's unlikely that all announced projects will make it to opening, there's quite a few underway already among resorts, these parks in Qiddya, FECs like the SEVEN installs, and stuff around NEOM (which is more than just the Line). It's fairly impressive. Even if 50% of these things get completed (heck, even 20%), I think it will be an impressive array of installations at an international standard which is really going to change the tourism market here both domestically and internationally.

Excited to see how it all develops.

Neom is a stupid miscalculated mess which is now crying for private investment as the estimated budget is now completely unachievable. Like it would work anyway, imagine getting from point A to the other side of the line via transit? I believe it’s been scaled down to 2KM now anyway, honestly more money than brains.

I also cannot wait for the new ski resort- I lose faith in this park as a lot of Saudi Projects are just designed with image in mind, practicality second.
 
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