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Saudi’s Qiddiya to open first sites next year as plans grow

An artist's impression of part of Saudi Arabia's Qiddiya district. The first of 82 entertainment locations is due to open next year SPA
An artist's impression of part of Saudi Arabia's Qiddiya district. The first of 82 entertainment locations is due to open next year
  • Revisions as Riyadh expands
  • More hotels and attractions
  • Region is ‘Orlando 2.0’

Saudi Arabia’s mega sports and entertainment city Qiddiya is adding more hotel space and attractions to its masterplan to accommodate Riyadh’s projected population growth, a senior official said this week. 

Riyadh’s population is forecast to grow to 15 million by 2030. The city was chosen last year as the location for Expo 2030. 

Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh, could eventually become a suburb of the capital, Don Potts, president for parks and attractions at Qiddiya Investment Company, said in an interview.

A waterpark and the Six Flags amusement park, including the world’s longest, fastest and tallest rollercoaster called Falcon’s Flight, will be the first of 82 sites to open next year.

Talking to AGBI on the sidelines of the IAAPA Middle East Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi, Potts said Riyadh’s expansion plans “changed everything”.

“We didn’t have enough capacity so now they’re adding many more hotel rooms, more attractions,” he said, adding that the city aims to include 41,000 hotel rooms.  

He said the city was similar to Orlando in Florida, which developed around Walt Disney World Resort after it opened in 1971 but would go one further, calling it “Orlando 2.0”. 

“If you think of Orlando and Disney World 50 years ago, there was the Magic Kingdom and two hotels. We’re following that – it really is Orlando 2.0, what we’re doing. That’s what Qiddiya City will ultimately be,” he said. 

But he said Qiddiya management was being careful about declaring timelines. There have been few announcements since the project was first revealed in 2018 and a permanent Formula One race track was announced in 2020. 

don pottsQiddya
Don Potts, president for parks and attractions at Qiddiya Investment Company, said the city would be ‘Orlando 2.0’

In recent months plans for a multi-use sports stadium and a gaming and e-sports district were unveiled. The minister of tourism announced a tourism academy last September. 

Real estate consultancy Knight Frank valued Qiddiya at $9.8 billion in its 2023 annual report, with most of its projects already commissioned. Finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said in December some projects could be slowed down to avoid inflation and supply bottlenecks. 

“It’s going to take years, you don’t do these things overnight,” said Potts, formerly a senior executive at Universal Studios Parks & Resorts in Orlando, Florida. He said the waterpark’s name would be made public some time this year. 

Potts said the city will make innovative use of its stunning location in the Tuwaiq mountains on the edge of the Empty Quarter desert in central Arabia.

“At the waterpark in the Tuwaiq mountains, you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

Qiddiya is in the vicinity of Diriyah, another of the giga-projects at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s mammoth economic development plans that have been possible through its role as the world’s leading oil producer. 

Potts said there was no danger of cannibalisation. 

“Just in Riyadh alone we have 8 million people – it’s New York city in a backyard with nothing to do, and then you add the 30 million people of Saudi (Arabia) and boost the growth of Riyadh to 15 million – I’m not worried about Qiddiya,” he said.

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