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Diriyah CEO sets date for first stage of $50bn project

At-Turaif is a UNESCO-listed site, founded in the 15th century visitsaudi.com
At-Turaif, a mud-brick city founded in the 15th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • CEO Jerry Inzerillo hails ‘hugely significant moment’ for development
  • At-Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been restored
  • Mattal Al Bujairi restaurant precinct will also open to the public

The first phase of Saudi Arabia’s $50.6 billion project to transform the historic Diriyah district will open later this year, its boss has told AGBI.

Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, said the public would be able to visit the restored UNESCO World Heritage site at At-Turaif and the Mattal Al Bujairi restaurant precinct by the end of 2022.

“This is a hugely significant moment for Diriyah: At-Turaif sits at the cultural heart of the mud-brick city, the home of the Al Saud, the birthplace of the kingdom and site of the first Saudi Arabian state in 1727. It will once again come alive with galleries, museums and cultural experiences,” said Inzerillo.

“But this is only the beginning,” he added. “These landmarks are the first part of Diriyah’s rolling masterplan.”

Over the coming year, new projects are set to be unveiled at the site on the northwestern outskirts of the Saudi capital – including cultural hubs, educational institutions and major business headquarters – while construction gets underway on other parts of the 14-sq-km development.

“We are on track to continue this success and deliver every year in our pipeline from now until 2026,” he said.

Inzerillo, who was appointed to lead the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in 2018, described the response to the project from global hospitality brands as “tremendous”.

The museums in Diriyah will showcase Saudi's history and culture
The museums in Diriyah will showcase Saudi’s history and culture. Picture: viisitsaudi.com

The development had “received overwhelming interest from the world’s most revered luxury and upper luxury five-star brands,” he said. “We have announced the first 16 hotel brands, including the Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood and Six Senses, and DGDA looks forward to unveiling additional hotel operators in the coming months.”

Mattal Al Bujairi will house four restaurants from Michelin-star chefs – Bruno, Tatel, Hakkasan and Long Chim – alongside a “meticulously curated” offering from more than 20 food and beverage brands, ranging from takeaway coffee to fine dining.

“Part of the reason we’re curating local partners and international players together is to ensure we’re as relevant as possible,” Inzerillo said.

Diriyah would contribute to the kingdom’s plan to make Riyadh one of the world’s largest city economies, he added. The Saudi capital currently sits 41st, but the goal is to reach the top 10 within the next eight years.

“We are not building a brand new city at Diriyah; Riyadh is already a thriving metropolis of over 8 million people and we want to see that grow to 15 million by 2030. Seventy percent of the city’s population is aged 35 or below, and the Saudi to expat ratio is very different to other cities in the region, sitting at around 60:40. 

“The kingdom’s leadership is putting significant resources into making this happen. One trillion Saudi riyals ($267 billion) are being invested in the city’s development including expansion of the airport, transit system, metro and its capacity to accommodate visitors, which is a key aspect of Diriyah’s masterplan.”

Jerry Inzerillo
Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, says the district aims to attract 27 million visitors a year

Riyadh’s hotel offering stands at about 15,000 keys but Diriyah will open 38 hotels and add around 6,000 keys. 

“We are building this pipeline to prepare the city to accommodate the targeted visitors to Riyadh, as the kingdom moves to increase tourism’s contribution to GDP from 3 percent to 10 percent by the end of the decade, with 100 million tourists anticipated by 2030.

“Diriyah alone is aiming to attract 27 million visitors a year to contribute to this target, and the development will create 55,000 job opportunities,” Inzerillo added.

It is one of a number of giga-projects that aim to transform the kingdom under Vision 2030, with each development offering its own set of tourist attractions.

“Each brings in pioneers in their respective fields, attracting the best minds in urban development, entertainment, tourism, hospitality, conservation, digital, technology and so much more. The giga-projects are leading innovation in the kingdom, which gives them the platform and the voice to shape change here and beyond.”

Inzerillo is also keen to highlight sustainability efforts at Diriyah and across Saudi Arabia.

“At Diriyah this is a challenge that we are keenly focused on and essentially, we have the chance to create something that truly has sustainability at its heart. The nature of our giga-project means that we can’t just think about environmental sustainability, but also other equally important components of economic, societal and cultural sustainability.

“As one of the first giga-projects to break ground, Diriyah really is a catalyst for Vision 2030, supporting the pledge to raise tourism’s contribution to the kingdom’s economy. The project will have a huge impact on sustainable tourism as we take a more holistic approach and look at ways in which our visitors can actively revitalise and regenerate our historic community,” he said.

Another Vision 2030 pledge is to increase female employment from an average of 22 percent to 30 percent. “DGDA is proactively leading the charge on this with 33 percent of its employees being female,” said Inzerillo. 

Diriyah at a glance

  • Diriyah is located in Riyadh province, just 15 minutes northwest of the city centre.
  • At its heart lies the mud-brick city of At-Turaif, founded in the 15th century and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.
  • The giga-project will create a mixed-use urban community, in the Najdi architectural style typical of At-Turaif and other Saudi villages of centuries past. 
  • On completion, it will be home to 100,000 residents, plus workers, students and visitors.
  • The district will have cultural, entertainment, retail, hospitality, educational, office and residential areas, including 38 hotels, museums and over 100 eateries.