Saudi Arabia Plans to build A Riviera of the Middle East

Saudi Arabia will turn its northwestern Red Sea coast into a luxury tourism resort to rival the French Riviera, its Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced Wednesday.

The Amaala development would be ‘a natural extension of the Mediterranean Sea, and dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East’, according to the country’s top sovereign wealth fund.

Located in the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nature Reserve, the resort will feature hotels, private villas, an arts academy and a yacht club.

It is the latest in a series of ‘giga projects’ designed to pull the ailing Saudi economy away from oil and towards tourism.

PIF said Amaala, along with NEOM and Qiddiya – Saudi Arabia’s answer to Silicon Valley and Disneyland – will form a portfolio of ultra-projects and create a ‘tourism ecosystem’ to underpin a strong economy and boost employment.

Due to be completed by 2028, the Amaala resort will span three sites in the nature reserve and cover an area exceeding 3,800 sq. km. It will be accessible via a dedicated airport.

While the initial funding will be provided by PIF, partnership and investment packages will open up to the private sector as the project progresses.

Meanwhile, Wednesday also marked the inauguration of the Kingdom’s Haramain (two mosques) high-speed rail linking Mecca, Medina and Jeddah.

The 450-km (280-mile) multi-billion dollar railway will carry an estimated 60 million passengers annually, many of them Islamic worshippers, hundreds of thousands of whom complete the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages every year.

It will cut journey times between Islam’s most sacred cities – Mecca and Medina – in half.

n Amaala, the PIF hopes to attract a new brand of conscientious modern tourist with what they say is an ‘all-new concept for ultra-luxury tourism focusing on wellness, healthy living, and meditation.’

Saudi Arabia has dazzled investors with a series of highly ambitious, billion-dollar schemes all funded in part by its sovereign wealth fund but sceptics question their viability.

In addition to NEOM and Qiddiya, the kingdom has unveiled a blueprint for the Red Sea project, a reef-fringed resort destination which includes a nature reserve and heritage sites on about 50 islands.

Such projects are the brainchild of Prince Mohammed, architect of a sweeping reform programme dubbed ‘Vision 2030’, which looks to modernise and open up Saudi society.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said it will begin issuing visas to visitors to attend sporting and cultural events from December, a first for the kingdom as it seeks to open its society up and attract international tourists.

At present, foreigners travelling to the conservative Muslim country are largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to travel to holy sites.

Plans to admit significant numbers of tourists from abroad have been discussed for years, only to be blocked by conservative opinion and bureaucracy. But the crown prince has curbed the power of conservative and other dissenting voices, and says he wants to take Saudi Arabia in a new direction.