As Saudi Arabia, more known these days for nefarious international crimes and repressive social policies than for tourism, gets ready to open its borders to travelers and vacationers, stunning locations and attractions are putting a new sheen on ancient beacons of interest. Meanwhile, new builds are in the works in Abu Dhabi in a move start started with Dubai in the mid 1990s to turn attention from what’s below the ground to the riches to be made on the surface.
To that end, Diriyah Gate, a sweeping 19th century adobe city that is the birthplace of the Saudi nation, will be soon unveiled as a major educational, cultural, recreational, and hospitality hub on the banks of the Hanifa valley in Diriyah, in the heart of the modern capital city of Riyadh.
“The Diriyah Gate development will serve as a gathering place in this new era of openness. Our partnerships with Greg Norman and the resort developer Aman, unveiled just this week, offer a taste of the type of unprecedented collaborations we are seeking in our mission to make Diriyah a global icon and the Arabian peninsula’s must-visit destination,” said Gerard ‘Jerry’ Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) and former CEO at Forbes Travel Guide.
Saudi officials are hoping to preserve Diriyah’s history, developing the historic site into one of the world’s greatest gathering places and a hub for Saudi culture and heritage, and tourism. The Diriyah Gate Development Authority signed landmark deals with Aman, a luxury resort developer, and the Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD) Company last week to introduce the splendors of Diriyah to the world.
The boutique Aman hotel will be built in Bujairi, the lifestyle and culture hub of the Diriyah Gate megaproject. Aman resorts have upended the typical model of the hospitality industry by doing away with lobbies, bellboys, and reception desks. Aman’s Diriyah Gate property will have spectacular views over the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 27-hole Wadi Safar Golf Course will be designed by the GNGCD, one of the world’s leading golf course developers, in an exclusive residential district being developed by DGDA in a verdant valley west of Riyadh.
The Diriyah announcement comes as the Kingdom releases details of its new eVisa system, which also came into effect last week.
Saudi Arabia, until recently, was open almost exclusively to religious tourism. Under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategic plan, tourism has been identified as a major growth sector, and the Kingdom is making strides to open up now with the introduction of tourism visas and a wide range of cultural festivals, concerts and sporting events.
YAS Island Revs Up
Concurrently, in Abu Dhabi, the development of Yas Bay, a new and iconic waterfront destination on Yas Island, is meeting key milestones toward its targeted 2020 completion. The $3.3 billion project, includes developing the public realm, the infrastructure, the Hilton hotel, and the Yas Bay Arena with 14 million square feet of development focused on three distinct areas: The Waterfront, Residences at Yas Bay, and twofour54.
The focal point of Yas Bay, The Waterfront, will incorporate Yas Bay Arena, two world-class hotels and a beach club, as well as a boardwalk and pier that are set to have 37 cafés and restaurants, and 19 retail outlets. As one of the key components of the waterfront development, Yas Bay Arena, will be a first-of-its-kind, multi-purpose indoor venue, providing flexible capacity from 500 people to around 18,000 people. The new Arena is set to become a major addition to Abu Dhabi’s entertainment and culture offering, hosting large-scale and private events such as sporting competitions and cultural performances.
Yas Bay will also be home to two new world-class hospitality offerings, including a major Hilton hotel set within the Waterfront area. Having reached 60 per cent in construction progress and scheduled for completion in 2020, it is primed to become one of Yas Island’s key landmarks, comprising 546 rooms with a wide range of food & beverage outlets.
Yas Bay also incorporates Residences at Yas Bay, an urban island community with capacity for 15,000 residents through 35 low-to-mid-rise residential plots. Then, twofour54, a creative hub for Abu Dhabi’s media and entertainment industry at Yas Bay, is set to attract 10,000 professionals.