Saudi Arabia's $500 billion giga-city state, Neom, would welcome its first tourist by 2024, a top official has said.
Andrew McEvoy, Head of Tourism for Neom, aims to develop a futuristic destination that rivals human imagination. He said the city would have built hotels and be ready to host the first set of tourists within the next two years.
"Our first tourism asset will open at the start of 2024," McEvoy told Khaleej Times in an interview on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market being held at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
He said hospitality giants have already committed to coming onboard. "There is a number of brands that are coming. None of them has yet been announced. So, I won't do that right here," said McEvoy when asked about the hotel chains that Neom will host.
He said the first announcement of an asset is expected as early as a few months from here.
Named from a combination of the Greek word for “new” and the Arabic term for “future”, Neom seeks to redefine the future of humanity with cutting-edge technology and a sustainable way of living. Built on the Red Sea in the Northwest of Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk province and expected to be 33 times the size of New York City, Neom is the brainchild of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is on a trailblazing experiment to modernize the highly conservative Muslim country. The giga project is also part of Saudi’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy and move away from dependence on hydrocarbons.
With hyperloop, ultra-speed trains, flying drone taxis, floating cities, ski-resorts, exhibition and conference centres, luxury hotels, entertainment arcades and its airports, Neom touts itself to be an ultra-modern fantasy land, but one that will be self-reliant on food, run on net zero energy and with its legal system outside of the Kingdom.
One of the most ambitious projects announced by Neom is The Line, a 170-kilometre long city with no streets and cars that will host 2 million people when completed. The linear development of hyper-connected AI-enabled communities will be entirely powered by clean energy. Walkability will define life on THE LINE – all essential daily services, such as schools, medical clinics, leisure facilities, and green spaces, will be within a five-minute walk.
The official said work is underway at Oxagon, the floating city and an industrial complex that will showcase a new model for future manufacturing centres with low environmental impact. Oxagon’s industrial development plan will focus on seven sectors – sustainable energy, autonomous mobility, water innovation, sustainable food production, health and well-being, modern construction and technology and digital manufacturing, including telecoms, space technology and robotics.
Trojena, will be the new global destination for mountain tourism. The new year-round tourist destination will consist of a series of facilities such as the ski village, ultra-luxury family and wellness resorts, a wide range of retail stores and restaurants, in addition to sports activities, including a ski slope, water sports and mountain biking, as well as an interactive nature reserve.
After its grand announcement in 2017, how much of Neom is completed now? McEvoy says work is underway on three of its main projects.
"A lot of the early works are underway and being done. So, work at a lot of these masterplan-approved areas is underway."
He said about 10,000 construction workers are currently in Neom. "And there are about 1500 of us working for the project, leading and running different sectors."
McEvoy said an island development is expected to open by the end of next year.
"So, that'll really kick us off. And then, after that, there's a lot of the dominoes start to fall. So, our first assets on The Line (will be completed) by 2025- 26, Trojena by around 2026. "So, you will see a lot more being built."
McEvoy said Neom will cater to all segments of tourists from midscale to high-net worth individuals.
“There are Giga projects that are just focused on high net-worth and ultra-high net worth (tourists). We've got a lot of coming up. So, we will have everything from midscale to upper upscale luxury and hyper luxury, and probably invent new class at some point as well,” he said.
The vision is to promote a full visitor economy covering everything from corporate, adventure, outdoors, sports, leisure and entertainment, family, events and conferences. “So, it's the full gamut of all the types of visitors that can come.”
Neom will be a free and open city that will not be bound by the existing legal system of Saudi Arabia, and that will help Neom to be globally competitive, said McEvoy.
“We will have our own authority. So, we will have our own laws and regulations. We want to attract investors, to attract tenants, residents and tourists. So, you'll find that it's a very open authority, that is really welcoming.”
When asked whether it meant alcohol and gambling will be legal, the official said, “I would say nothing is off the table.”
“We want to be a competitive destination. So, we have got to benchmark ourselves.”
McEvoy said with tourism opening up at Neom, the “global misconceptions of Saudi” will change. “I think tourism can help change some of those because tourism is soft diplomacy, it is people to people connection. They will come and see for themselves a very beautiful, welcoming people. That's something we want to capture.”
He said the famed Saudi hospitality will also play in favour of Neom.
“I think the Arabian service culture could be something quite exceptional for the world because in Saudi and Arabic world generally people give over their home to you, you're treated as a guest. So, and you're not a number. You're not just a tourist.” He said the local population is “very excited to welcoming people from all over the world.”
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