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Adventure giga-project The Rig ‘definitely happening’

An artist's impression of Saudi giga-project The Rig, a floating entertainment centre off the kingdom's east coast SPA
An artist's impression of Saudi giga-project The Rig, a floating entertainment centre off the kingdom's east coast
  • Bids sought to build offshore platform
  • Cost estimates at over $2bn
  • 2027 target for launch

One of Saudi Arabia’s most headline-grabbing giga-projects is moving ahead with plans for two floating entertainment centres on offshore platforms off the kingdom’s east coast. 

Many thought the exotic adventure tourism project known as The Rig would be canned as the Public Investment Fund (PIF) reviews its $1.25 trillion portfolio of giga-projects. 

Insiders remain confident in its prospects, however, despite lower government oil revenues and disappointing foreign investment numbers. 

A Gulf-based diplomat said the more unconventional projects, such as The Line and The Rig, could face the biggest scrutiny. 

Saudi Arabia’s top economic body recently reviewed the progress of the economic reforms, including the huge tourist and entertainment projects, raising speculation of changes. 

Leading project Neom has already cut its 170km-long horizontal city The Line down to less than 5km and cancelled a desalination plant inside the industrial city Oxagon, while the entertainment developer Seven has become a subsidiary of entertainment district Qiddiya.

But The Rig rumbles on. It had a large pavilion at the recent Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, has issued requests for proposals (RFP) to offshore construction companies, and has contracted Maritime Company for Navigation to manage sea transport to the project. 

Officials at the pavilion confirmed to AGBI that UAE-based Lamprell, India’s Larsen & Toubro, Beijing-based China Harbour and US-based McDermott are among those invited to bid. “It’s definitely happening,” one said. 

Announced last year, the project is said to include three hotels with over 800 rooms, restaurants, and 70 attractions including a 6,000-person multi-purpose arena that could accommodate dance raves and an adventure park described as offering “extreme sports”. 

“The Rig is inspired by the design of offshore oil platforms and will celebrate the legacy of Saudi Arabia’s rich oil and gas heritage,” CEO Raed Bakhrji said earlier this year.

Saudi Arabia is pushing for tourism to cover 10 percent of GDP by 2030. While around half of 27 million visitors in 2023 were pilgrims, the country has focused on affluent adventure and wellness tourism in locations such as AlUla, located amid pre-Islamic Nabataean ruins. 

Backpackers need not apply – at least so far. 

While no public price tag has been put on The Rig, sector analysts estimate it at over $2 billion with a target date of 2027. 

An official at the Dammam-based company said it would depend on the bids that come in. 

“No official costs have been announced as The Rig is currently finalising the engineering details and the (construction) RFPs are currently floated in the market. We should expect a significant announcement in the next six months,” he said.  

While Neom has been valued at $500 billion by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, the next most costly are Diriyah and New Murabba in Riyadh, at $63 billion and $50 billion. 

Tim Callen, a former International Monetary Fund official and visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said PIF is likely to be able to cover $270 billion of investments needed up to 2030, including borrowing and transfers from state entities like Aramco and the central bank. 

“This to me implies that unless oil revenues go up quite substantially, they will not have the financing to fund all the projects and decisions will have to be made on prioritisation. This could include doing them over a longer period or scrapping some,” he said.

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