Saudi Arabia has started work on its mega heritage tourism project Souq Okaz City in Taif, expected to eventually cost more than $2bn, local daily Arab News reported.
Spread across about 10 million sqm in the new Taif city, the project will feature museums, recreational areas, hotels, schools and a convention centre.
It will be developed in coordination between the public and private sector, with the latter expected to account for 89 per cent of the investment, according to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
The approved budget for the project under the National Transformation Program 2020 is SAR815m ($217m), which will be allocated for creating major infrastructure projects, in addition to few cultural, recreational and educational projects.
Under the plans, the five main public-sector projects include interactive learning museums; an Okaz Museum; an exhibition and convention centre; an Arab poetry Academy which will host festivals, heritage events, poetry and theatre fairs throughout the year; and Okaz park – which will have an open-air theatre and a handicrafts centre.
The 18 projects earmarked for the private sector include recreational parks, heritage and shopping villages, open souks, accommodation inns, ecological camps, heritage lodges, shopping malls, spa and treatment centres, hotels, business centres, social club, international schools, health clubs, sport facilities, furnished tourist apartments, health tourism complexes, and tourist accommodation complexes.
The mega project is anticipated to create more than 15,000 jobs, of which 80 per cent will be reserved for young Saudis, Arab News stated.
The foundation for the project was laid by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and adviser to King Salman, during the opening of the annual Souq Okaz festival last week.
Along with the new heritage project, the wider Souq Okaz City will also develop a suburb with housing for about 750,000 people, a new international airport with the capacity to handle five million passengers a year in its first phase, a technology hub, Taif University, and an industrial city.
Saudi has been focussing on boosting its tourism sector as part of its ambitious Vision 2030 strategy to diversify its economy away from oil.
As part of the strategy, the kingdom aims to attract 1.5 million tourists by 2020 and increase the revenue generated from tourism to 18 per cent in the next 14 years, according to reports. Currently the number of tourists visiting the kingdom stands at around 200,000.
Last year, the kingdom also approved plans to start issuing tourist visas last year under a wider strategy to help diversify the economy.
As part of the strategy, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund unveiled major new international tourism project encompassing a 30,000-square-kilometre stretch of islands, beaches and other attractions on the Red Sea in August.
The Maldives-inspired project will see the development of resorts on more than 50 natural islands between the cities of Umluj and Al-Wajh in partnership with major hotel operators.
Most nationalities will not require a visa to visit when it is completed in 2022.