A Closer Look at The Qiddiya Entertainment Complex Project

The Qiddiya construction project will be 25 miles away from the capital city of Qiddiya.

Photo by lawepw / CC0 1.0

The Qiddiya complex in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be the size of a city. The massive entertainment hub will sit 25 miles southwest of the capital of Riyadh, and only an hour’s drive from the King Khalid International Airport. The giga-project, one of several in Saudi Arabia, will boost tourism as well as encourage a younger generation of Saudis to spend more money on entertainment and stay within the country to find work and improve the economy.

Expanding Tourism and Entertainment

Financed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Public (PIF), the Qiddiya project will also seek funds from local and international investment, bonds and other sources. The estimated cost of the infrastructure alone is around 30 billion riyals, with tens of billions more spent in total.

The PIF also heads several other of the giga-projects in Saudi Arabia, including NEOM, a $500 billion business and industry project that is Saudi’s answer to Silicon Valley, and the Red Sea Project, which focuses on nature reserves, diving and ecology.

These expansive construction projects are part of Vision 2030 by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, which aims to modernize the Kingdom and make the economy less reliant on oil. One objective is to increase household spending on entertainment from 2.9 percent to 6 percent GDP.

Infographic by Raminagrobis // CC BY-SA 4.0
Saudi Arabia is aiming to become less reliant on oil in the coming decades

Infographic by Raminagrobis // CC BY-SA 4.0

Former Disney World and Florida East Coast Industries giant Michael Reininger, who was responsible for bringing private rail transport to lines across Florida and Miami, will head the Qiddiya project as CEO. However, the Qiddiya project will be a massive new project for the experienced entrepreneur.

It’s clear that Saudi Arabia is acknowledging their young population, and that a central aim is to keep the younger generations spending within the country. Secretary-General of the Foundation Council for the Qiddiya project Dr Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi points out that 2/3 of the population are under 35, and that there is a need to provide entertainment so that they stay in the country and boost the economy.

Saudi’s tend to head elsewhere for entertainment, such as Dubai or Bahrain. The goal is to recapture some of the $30 billion spent outside the Kingdom and create tens of thousands of jobs for young people. It looks like entertainment will play a significant part in Saudi Arabia’s economic future.

The Qiddiya Complex

 The Qiddiya complex will cover 129 square miles of land, an area that is 50 times the size of Gibraltar, 2.5 times the size of Disney World and nearly as big as Las Vegas. Still, this is where the comparisons to the famous Strip stops. The entertainment complex won’t offer the usual mix of casino games that you would expect to find in Las Vegas or even at the larger, more established online casino sites.

Instead, it will feature impressive attractions, such as a high-end theme park and safari park. The Qiddiya complex will have six main components. They are:

  • Amusement park
  • Sports tracks, auto and motorcycle rally tracks on both desert and asphalt
  • Indoor ski slopes
  • Water parks
  • Natural attractions
  • Cultural and heritage zones

U.S. theme group Six Flags, who made an agreement with PIF to develop the park, will create the theme park. Though the details are kept under wraps, at least for now, Chief Executive Jim Reid-Anderson has said that Six Flags will be building three parks in Saudi Arabia, with one worth $300 million and another $500 million.

The idea of adult theme parks in Saudi Arabia has been met with scrutiny, as it will potentially break with convention by allowing men and women to enjoy entertainment in the same space. When asked about these social codes, the CEO of Qiddiya Michael Reininger said that the project would be on the “leading edge” when it comes to changes in the Kingdom.

Breaking with Social Conventions

Will a Six Flag theme park, along with the other entertainment venues across Qiddiya, means breaking with Saudi Arabia traditions and customs?

Photo by milst1 / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Qiddiya project could potentially break with several of the traditional social conventions of Saudi Arabia, bringing more opportunities for entertainment and mixed events. Thus, it’s critical to understand this project in the context of the progression of Saudi society.

The recent lifting on the ban on movie theatres led to the showing of Disney’s ‘Black Panther’, the first showing of a commercial film in more than 35 years. Now, the plan is for Saudi Arabia to have 300 cinemas and 2,000 screens by 2030.

The first official belote tournament was also held in April, with serious prize money for the winners. Although participants did not pay to enter, this sort of large-scale competition shows that the country is changing, as evidenced by the country lifting the ban on women driving. Entertainment complexes such as Qiddiya represent a new, modern Saudi Arabia, with its aims of expanding both tourism and spending within the country.

The inauguration of the Qiddiya project took place at the end of April, in a ceremony that included fireworks, live orchestral music and vocal performances. With the first phase of the development expected to complete in 2022, by this point, the projections are for 1.5 million visitors per year. The project will also have hotels, restaurants and residential areas for a full-service experience.