Diriyah and the Giga Projects Defining Saudi Arabia’s New Tourism Economy

By Erika Masako Welch, 04 April 2023
Diriyah and the Giga Projects Defining Saudi Arabia’s New Tourism Economy

Diriyah is just one of many giga-projects the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been investing in and developing for the past few years. With an investment pipeline of $63.2 billion, Diriyah is also on the grander scale of projects announced. It is also is one of the first of Saudi’s tourism giga-projects to open its doors to the public; you can go and see for yourself, what tourism is on offer in Saudi.

Entrepreneur Middle East and Lucidity Insights partnered with Diriyah Company to launch this Special Report titled: “Diriyah & The Giga Projects Defining the New Saudi Arabia”. In it, the special report details 7 Mega and Giga Projects, their grand plans and ambitions. It juxtaposes the red clay desert and preserved tombs carved into the mountainside of Al’Ula to the futuristic city of NEOM, which has an initial investment and development price tag of over $500 billion. The report also highlights the “Arabian Highlands” of the Asir region and the luxurious sustainable tourism resorts being built on the white sand beaches of the Red Sea Project.

Infographic: The Giga-Projects & Mega Projects Shaping Leisure Tourism in the Kingdom

Infographic: The Giga-Projects & Mega Projects Shaping Leisure Tourism in the Kingdom

These tourism development projects in the pipeline amount to over US $600 billion, and the Minister of Tourism, His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb has announced an additional US $1 trillion commitment over the next decade. To put that into perspective, US $1 trillion is approximately the size of Mexico’s economy (in 2021). It was also the price tag the US spent on the Iraq war between 2003 to 2011. US $1 trillion was also the estimated global cost of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A significant portion of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 success rests on the successful completion of these giga projects, and their impact on the Kingdom’s economy. The Saudi government is betting on tourism being a major economic pillar for the Kingdom in the future, as the country looks to diversify away from oil dependency and seeks to create millions of new jobs for young Saudis. With ambitions to grow Saudi Arabia’s tourism economy from roughly 2% of GDP (in 2016) to over 10% of GDP by 2030, the Kingdom is uncovering its tourism gems and polishing them for the world to visit, experience and see for themselves.

Chart: Tourism Contribution to Saudi Arabia’s GDP - 2016 vs 2019 vs 2030 Target

See Graph: Tourism Contribution to Saudi Arabia’s GDP - 2016 vs 2019 vs 2030 Target

Diriyah is just one of these projects. After announcing the Diriyah project in 2019, the home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, At-Turaif, the Diriyah Company has been working at a feverish pace to create a luxurious cultural and tourism project unlike any other. Diriyah, now dubbed ‘The City of Earth’, is a place of great significance. Diriyah is an old town built of mud-brick structures featuring courtyards, alleyways, and towers that showcase quintessential Najdi architecture. It was established in 1446, and later in 1727 became the capital of the first Saudi State. This is where the first seat of government was formed in the Kingdom, and has been at the heart of trade, culture, knowledge, communication and economic exchange for centuries.

The revival of Diriyah and the mud-brick city is helping to promote the country’s cultural heritage and history to the world, with museums, artifacts, and palaces to be visited, coupled with luxury hotels and restaurants for a truly unique experience. Diriyah, like all of these giga projects, is more than just a cultural and tourism project. It’s supporting local communities and aiming to create 55,000 jobs. Once fully developed by 2027, this 14 km2 site is expected to bring 27 million local and international visitors by 2030.

We also interview the legendary Jerry Inzerillo in the report, where he speaks to us about his career spanning over 40 years – starting out busing tables as a young boy in New York city. We cover his relationship with the late Nelson Mandela, his James Bond cameo, and his overall dedication to hospitality and luxury tourism, and what this role at Diriyah means to him at this stage in his career.

Of course, we also cover Al’Ula and its open air museum offering. We also review the Red Sea Project’s luxury resort plans. We take a sneak peek at the ambitious Qiddiya Project, meant to be the capital of sports, entertainment and art when it begins to open later this year. We see development plans for the Asir Region, as well as the various projects and sub-projects to be developed within NEOM, the ‘city of the future’.


To read more about Saudi’s history, tourism strategy and dive deep into each of the Mega and Giga Projects that are shaping the new Saudi Arabia, read the full report here.