Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday of a vast entertainment resort that is at the heart of an ambitious strategy to open the economy and ease social restrictions.

Qiddiya, about an hour’s drive from Riyadh, is being built on a 334 sq km (8,400-acre) site, making it 2-1/2 times the size of Disney World.

It will include a Six Flags theme park, water parks, motor sports, cultural events, and vacation homes. A spokesman said Qiddiya expects to attract 1.5 million visitors annually when the first phase opens in 2022.

Local media have reported the cost of the infrastructure alone would reach up to 30 billion riyals ($8 bln) and the project would eventually be worth tens of billions of riyals.

Little more than a week after Saudi Arabia opened its first cinema after a nearly four-decade ban, the author of the reforms, Prince Mohammed, and his father attended the lavish launch ceremony, which featured a live orchestra, fireworks and a vocal performance praising both leaders.

“Today, we invite investors, creators, and operators from around the world to explore what a one-of-a-kind project like Qiddiya has to offer,” CEO Michael Reininger told government officials, foreign dignitaries and businessmen gathered in a temporary open-air auditorium.

“We will seek the best to help us, as we invent a new entertainment experience for all residents and visitors to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”


Reininger told Reuters that Qiddiya was seeking a broad range of financing from local and international sources, with bonds, direct investment and other tools to supplement the majority contribution from the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

PIF has two other major initiatives: NEOM – a $500 billion business and industrial zone extending into Egypt and Jordan – and a Red Sea project, which includes a nature reserve, diving in coral reefs and heritage sites on about 50 islands.

Reininger would not specify the expected investment value for Qiddiya except to describe it as “incredibly sizeable”.

Some 50 people are directly employed by Qiddiya, with hundreds more contracted as local suppliers and global advisors. Those numbers are expected to reach 55,000 by 2022.

The project aims to be the center of entertainment, cultural and sports activity in a country that has shunned such activities on religious grounds but is now pursuing them to generate economic returns and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.


With two-thirds of the population under 35 and few local entertainment offerings, many Saudis flock to nearby Bahrain or Dubai seeking fun at the weekends. The state wants to secure up to a quarter of the $20 billion spent on entertainment overseas each year.

“Capturing as much of (those expenditures) as I possibly can is the objective and at the same time creating a bigger pie so that I can get the disproportionate share of that bigger pie that we create at the same time,” Reininger said.

“We’re not just going to go around the world, find things and copy them. We’re going to innovate and we’re going to stay ahead of the curve.”

Reininger, an American who joined Qiddiya last month, previously worked on a high-speed rail system in Florida, oversaw large-scale resort developments for the Walt Disney Company, and was a senior executive at engineering firm AECOM.

Asked about avoiding the pitfalls of other mega projects in the region, which have suffered long delays and cost overruns and sometimes fell far short of expected returns, Reininger said Qiddiya stood apart by fulfilling a clear economic need.

“It’s a giant market, there’s not a lot of competition, there’s a clear opportunity. That’s the kind of thing you want to invest in,” he said.

Asked whether social restrictions in place in other parts of Saudi Arabia, like gender segregation and a strict dress code for women, would apply, Reininger said Qiddiya would stay “on the leading edge” of changes in the kingdom, which has eased many of those rules in recent years.

“This article was first posted on Reuters.Com. on 28 APRIL, 2018: The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum.”


New York, 29th March 2018: The Minister of Labor and Social Development Dr. Ali bin Nasser Al-Ghafees launched the “Makeen” Platform to advance plans to guide the employees and accountants of non-profit sector organizations as to the rules, regulations and models of non-profit sector governance.

This service is an important part of developing Saudi Arabia’s non-profit sector as well as raising awareness around the world that non-profits in the Kingdom intend to operate under the non-profit world’s recognized standards and codes of conduct.

The Makeen platform is focused on the introduction of regulations, systems and electronic models, so every person engaged in the non-profit sector fully understands the objectives and responsibilities required for that work. The platform contains a link to disclose all administrative, operational and financial data to non-profit sector organizations.

Makeen offers awareness courses for every member of a non-profit organization, in order to ensure that all contracting operations – particularly with the government – are conducted properly.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development Undersecretary Salem Al-Daini was quoted by Al-Madinah newspaper as saying, “initiatives will be launched with the aim of training 50 percent of the non-profit sector workforce by 2020”.

He went on to say that the ministry also aims to ensure all private charitable societies adhere to the ministry’s developed governance system by 2020. This project aims to further strengthen the concept of social investment and its usage in the non-profit sector, including coordinating the contracting procedures of government agencies with the non-profit sector and providing monitoring, data and surveys on the non-profit sector.

A key aim of this program is for the government to ensure that associations and civil institutions adopt their own performance indicators in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, as well as to make sure these standards are disseminated throughout the Saudi non-profit sector.


New York, 28th March 2018: Stunning places such as rock-hewn Madain Saleh, are among Arabia’s greatest treasures. Other fascinating places include the capital of Riyadh, a showpiece for modern Saudi Arabia, the beautiful Red Sea port city of Jeddah, and for Muslim travellers, Mecca and Medina, the most sacred of destinations.

Whether an expat or a pilgrim, Saudi Arabia is one of the most splendid places anyone can visit, and now, the whole world will have an opportunity to experience it as well.

For many years, tourism in Saudi Arabia was strictly focused on pilgrims and “religious tourism,” and restricted to two cities, Mecca and Madinah. All others who journeyed to the Kingdom – for either personal or business travel – needed a sponsor.

After 70 years, this is about to dramatically change.

Today, Saudi Arabia is preparing to issue its first official tourist visas in 2018 as part of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy, promote investment and create more employment opportunities.

This new approach to tourism would allow non-Muslim tourists to visit historic sites such as Jeddah, Riyadh and the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh in the Arabian Desert. If the plan goes ahead, then this will be the first time that the Kingdom will issue visas specifically for tourism. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been aggressive in promoting Saudi Arabia’s potential and declaring that it will return to a form of ‘moderate, open Islam’.


The Kingdom’s transformation plan imagines the development of a significant tourism industry as a key pillar in the future national. An economic sector that can create dramatic employment opportunities and also produce considerable income for both the private and public sectors.

In Saudi Arabia, the latest research predicts nearly 1.8 million people will work in the tourism industry by 2020, almost tripling the 2011 figures. This prediction reflects incredible growth and confirms the promising opportunity for tourism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As reported by CNN Money, Saudi Arabia is aiming for 30 million visitors a year by 2030 (a sharp rise from 2016 figures of 18 million), while the country also intends to spend approximately £35bn on annual tourism by 2020.

Saudi Arabia is planning to convert 50 Red Sea islands into luxury beach resorts and has ambitious plans to build an ‘entertainment city’ to rival Las Vegas, which has generated international investment interest from the likes of billionaire Richard Branson.

With tourism arrivals expected to increase by 12.8 percent to reach 22.6 million in 2017, the Saudi government is keen to bring its entertainment sector in line with growth forecasts. An ambitious plan to transform a 200-kilometer stretch of Red Sea coastline into luxury hotels and resorts is among a series of development projects in the pipeline to attract tourists and expand the Kingdom’s hospitality offerings.

Vision 2030 is not only targeting tourism as a means to increase business and investment to boost the economy. A second priority is for business and investment to strengthen the economy, but also as a way to open up to the Kingdom and introduce the world to the significant archaeological treasures, rare antique museums and historic sites that belong to multiple cultures and eras of Saudi Arabia history. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has unique geological features, diverse topography and climate and one of kind breath-taking vistas that global tourists will find of interest.

But most important to attracting tourism to these new developments along the long Red Sea and Arabian Gulf coast lines is the cultural heritage and customs of the Saudi people, their generosity and hospitality. 

Saudi Arabia stands at the crossroads of world history and it is now ready to invite the world back to experience its rich and diverse culture.

New York, 27th March 2018: With the largest and fastest growing population in the GCC region, and with over half its population under 40, Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision objectives offer unparalleled opportunities for foreign investors in the healthcare sector.

Vision 2030 involves a complete reform of the economy, developing non-oil industries and sectors as a means to diversify sources of income, and decreasing public spending with a greater emphasis on participation from the private sector. With average life expectancy in the Kingdom rising from 66 years to 74 years in the past three decades, there has never been a more opportune time to focus on the healthcare sector.

Saudi authorities are determined to optimize and better utilize the capacity of the nation’s existing hospitals and healthcare centers, enhance the quality of the preventive and therapeutic healthcare services and invest in new world class facilities. With life expectancy set to increase to 80 years, Vision 2030 aims to enhance the standard and quality of healthcare services by promoting competition and transparency among providers.

These reforms will enhance the capability, efficiency and productivity of care and treatment and increase the medical options available to Saudi citizens. The government will transfer the responsibility for healthcare provision to a network of public companies that compete both against each other and against the private sector, with the goal of increasing choice and decreasing cost for Saudi citizens.

This will provide them with the highest quality of healthcare while at the same time allowing the government to focus on its legislative, regulatory and supervisory roles. Additionally, choices in services such as specialist diabetes or cardiology clinics will be introduced and patients will be able to choose their preferred medical provider. Given this blueprint, the Oxford Business Group predicts that the private sector share of the healthcare industry will rise to 35% by 2020 (currently around 25%), pushing total revenue generated by the private sector up from a baseline of SR300m ($80m) to reach SR4bn ($1bn).

According to US-based consultancy Aon Hewitt’s “2016 Global Medical Trend Rates” report, the Kingdom’s healthcare sector is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.3% through to 2020, reaching a value of $71.2bn. In 2016, the average net “trend rate” for the industry in Saudi Arabia rose by 9.5%, according to Aon, well above the MENA average of 5.3%.

The Kingdom’s sizeable healthcare sector proved resilient through the global economic downturn, and opportunities in niche segments are growing, such as digital healthcare services. For instance, the Ministry of Health launched its first digital applications for medical appointment scheduling and medical consultations via video call services.

Such advanced information technology solutions in the Saudi healthcare sector are expected to help improve the performance and productivity of healthcare providers, enabling a better quality of services to be provided. Furthermore, all foreign investors are asked to demonstrate a commitment to assisting Saudi Arabia in reaching the goals laid down in Vision 2030, such as achieving Saudization targets through training, developing, recruiting and retaining Saudi skills, which will necessitate educational standards in the Kingdom, including for medical and nursing degrees, to increase to facilitate the achievement of such goals.

The impact of Vision 2030 is far reaching and there are huge possibilities for foreign investment in the Saudi healthcare sector.

New York, 27th March 2018: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made the decision that its path forward will include a massive national transformation program to reimagine national priorities and spur innovative administrative and funding approaches to create a better way of life for all Saudis.

What is the key to realizing the goals of Vision 2030? Embracing a strategy that promotes the highest levels of transparency and governance across all sectors. U.S. and foreign investment will flow to the Kingdom only if it demonstrates a commitment to efficient public spending and balanced finances, the engagement of the Saudi public behind Vision 2030 and an effort to protect all vital resources.

This will provide the foundation for the future of living in the Kingdom. The Government has already moved ahead with some needed re-structuring, establishing the Council of Political and Security Affairs and the Council of Economic and Development Affairs. This restructuring will help to speed strategy development and decision-making, as well as enhance performance of both the Government and Saudi companies.

The objective of Vision 2030 is to target the real wealth of the country — the ambition of the Saudi people and the potential of its young people. The government is determined to reinforce and diversify the capabilities of the economy, turning key strengths into enabling tools for a fully diversified future by transforming Aramco from an oil producing company into a global industrial conglomerate.

Likewise, growing the Public Investment Fund’s assets into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, from SAR 600 billion to over 7 trillion, will help move Saudi Arabia from its position as the 19th largest economy into the top 15. Saudi Arabia is considered economically favorable location to start an industrial sector-related business. It has great comparative and competitive advantages in terms of the natural resources, raw materials and energy needed for manufacturing and industrial development.

Saudi also provides a welcoming home and efficient springboard for energy-intensive industries such as minerals and metal processing, automotive production, and petrochemical industries. Saudi features a thriving, fast-growing industrial sector (one of the largest not just in MENA but in the world ), the largest economy and market in MENA, and a strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia. Vision 2030 is also focused on developing and growing its cities, with the goal of having three included in the top-ranked 100 cities in the world. Saudi Arabia’s cities are already among the safest in the world with annual crime rates that are less than 0.8 per 100,000 people.

Saudi cities have grown significantly in recent decades and have evolved by investing heavily in public spaces to meet the recreational needs of individuals and families. More quality of life opportunities are coming, through the creation of partnerships with international entertainment corporations aimed at increasing household spending on cultural and entertainment activities inside the Kingdom from the current level of 2.9% to 6%.

One of Vision 2030’s strategic initiatives is providing Saudis the opportunity to live healthy lifestyles. Currently, just 13% of the Saudi population exercises at least once a week; the goal is to increase that figure to 40% by 2030. Creating programs to increase family participation in sports is central to achieving this goal. Similarly, Saudi Arabia also aspires to excel in select sports at the highest levels of international competition to create models of excellence for the nation.

Adding on that, the Kingdom now has 2.2 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, world-class medical specialists and an average life expectancy rising from 66 years to 74 years in the past three decades. The government is determined to optimize and better utilize the capacity of its hospitals and health care centers and enhance the quality of its preventive and therapeutic health care services.

Education and training is key to a future with better living and prosperity. Young men and women must be equipped for the jobs of the future. The government will invest in developing early childhood education, refining national curriculum and training teachers and educational leaders.

The government will also focus efforts on ensuring that the outcomes of our education system are in line with market needs. That will help to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. From the government’s perspective, SMEs are among the most important agents of the kingdom’s economic growth. The government’s transformation plan strives to create suitable job opportunities for citizens by supporting SME entrepreneurship, privatization and investments in new industries.

To achieve this goal, the SME authority was established to continue encouraging young entrepreneurs with business-friendly regulations, easier access to funding, international partnerships and a greater share of national procurement and government bids. These measures are intended to increase SME contribution to GDP from 20% to 35%, and to increase the private sector’s contribution as a whole from 40% to 65% of GDP. Digital infrastructure will comprise a significant part of future transformation. A sophisticated digital infrastructure will be developed to attract investors and enhance the fundamental competitiveness of the Saudi economy.

Strategic partnerships will be developed with the private sector to form a telecommunications and information technology infrastructure, with a specific goal of exceeding 90 percent housing coverage in densely populated cities and up to 66 percent in other areas. To take full advantage of these investments, the government plans to work with the private sector and enter into a new series of international partnerships to complete, improve and link the infrastructure both internally and across borders, including the construction of ports, railways, roads and airports.

The goal is to raise the global ranking in the Logistics Performance Index from 49 to 25 and ensure the Kingdom is a regional leader. The ultimate goal of Vision 2030 is to achieve economic integration regionally and internationally. With a GDP of SAR 2.4 trillion, the Saudi economy is already the largest in the Middle East. And Saudi enjoys close economic ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council and other Arab countries, as well as constructive relations with many Islamic and other countries.

The Kingdom will establish new business partnerships and facilitate a smoother flow of goods, people and capital. Among the top priorities is to fortify and extend interconnectivity and economic integration with other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Saudi Arabia will strive to complete the process of implementing the GCC common market, unifying customs, economic and legal policies, and constructing shared road and railway networks. This will increase the localization of oil and gas sectors from 40% to 75%, increase the nation’s current Global Competitiveness Index ranking from 25th into the top 10, and increase non-oil government revenue from SAR 163 billion to SAR 1 Trillion. The government also wants to boost its ranking in the Government Effectiveness Index from 80 to 20. These are the goals, objectives and ultimate aspiration of Vision 2030.

New York, 27th March 2018: For decades in Saudi Arabia, women jobseekers have faced a problem securing independent work opportunities because of the kingdom’s conservative culture, including guardianship regulations that restricted many social and economic aspects of female life in Saudi from education to medical treatment to finances – and even the right to drive.

The concept of male jurisdiction over women (mahram-legitimate guardian) is something that came to be accepted in the Kingdom. While these guardianship restrictions were not legally proscribed, there was a cultural adherence to these limitations, particularly with regard to legal capacity and personal status issues, including marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance and property ownership, decision-making in the family, choice of residence, education, employment, and even the ability to move freely.

Women also faced additional workplace restrictions, not being allowed to work in 21 business areas including mining, sewage projects, excavation and restoration works, construction, metalwork and other industrial roles.

But today, significant changes are underway.

The supreme order issued in May 2017 stated that a woman should not be required to obtain the consent of her guardian in order to access services, unless there is a legal basis for this request, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Islamic Shariah.

And in line with Vision 2030 and the nationwide social and economic transformation, the ministries of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are currently working on several initiatives within the National Transformation Program aimed at developing and empowering women in the public and private sector, enhancing their leadership role and empowering women leaders.

One of the objectives of the national transformation program is to increase the participation of women in the all labour market sectors and in so doing, escalate the participation of women at all levels, including senior leadership positions.

Accordingly, the Government of Saudi Arabia has decided to identify the programs that can contribute to greater female workplace participation with a focus on development, training and awareness support programs,

Changing the status quo will be crucial to the success of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s bold Vision 2030 economic reform plan, intended to transform the economy and reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil. One of program’s targets is to increase women participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent over the next 15 years, while also reducing total unemployment from 12.7 per cent to 7 per cent by 2030.

To achieve this, Prince Mohammed hopes to bolster the private sector in an economy currently dominated by state activity. Experts say the critical issue for placing more women in jobs will be having women take many of the jobs currently held by expatriates, who make up more than 80 per cent of private sector workforce.

There has already been a remarkable increase in women’s participation in public and political life with women reaching the highest levels of government jobs, such as Deputy Minister and University Director and also the private sector, with several high profile female Chief Executive Officers. By the end of 2016, the number of Saudi women working in the public sector numbered 474,125, 40% of the total number of employees in the public sector in Saudi Arabia, totalling 1,183,110. In contrast, the number of Saudi women working in the private sector over this same period was 545,158, just 29% of the total of 1,878,287 private-sector Saudi workers.

Overall, the total number of Saudi women working in the public and private sectors is 1,019,397, about 33% of all Saudi employees, totalling 3,061,397.

Moreover, the nation itself is changing. From the historic royal decree lifting the ban against women driving to work places paving the way for women to take part in different disciplines at the highest levels, women are for the first time being able to demonstrate their full abilities, skills and professionalism.

The private sector is also becoming a strategic player in supporting the nation’s economic and social transformation. Training programs by the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation are being implemented to allow women to work in factories, as a part of plans to fully engage women in the Saudi workforce.

In the surest sign yet of both the advance of women’s rights and the diversification of the Saudi economy, Careem, one of the region’s largest transportation companies and a leading ride-hailing app, has announced its commitment to recruit more women as “Captains” (Careem drivers) on its platform.

Careem was quick to register more than 2,000 women across Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. With a female-only call center already operational in Jeddah, Careem will look to launch a female-only training center in the Kingdom later this year with specialized training materials and female coaches.

Another reform milestone came with the ministry of labor pushing ahead with plans to ban expats from working in shops selling female-specific products and to limit jobs in shops selling “women’s necessities” in shopping malls, outdoor markets and stand alone locations to Saudi women. Since 2011, the Kingdom has been trying to create more jobs for women but has only recently through these efforts has it taken more dramatic steps to employ female citizens. By 2020, the Ministry of Labor hopes to increase the number of women working in the retail to 150,000.

In Saudi Arabia, the future is now, and women are a significant and important part of it.

New York – 24th March 2018:  The CEOs of more than 130 U.S. companies and those representing more than 70 Saudi companies have confirmed their attendance for the second edition of the Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum, taking place in New York on 27th March 2018.

The Forum, “An Era of Transformation: From Vision to Implementation”, features round-table discussions, panel sessions and a business exhibition designed to highlight the ongoing work carried by various entities to achieve the Kingdom’s 2030 vision.

The Forum will be opened by the co-chairs of the Forum, Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemicals and Lubna Olayan, CEO Olayan Financing.  The key note speech will be delivered by His Excellency Mohammed Al Jadaan, Minister of Finance, followed by a plenary panel with The Honorable Wilbur L. Ross, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, His Excellency Majid Al Qasadi, Minister of Commerce and Investment and His Excellency Khalid Al Falih, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources.

The 2018 Forum will focus on the transformation that is taking place in Saudi Arabia, showcasing ambitious new policies, expanding investment opportunities and the modernization of society with panels highlighting new opportunities for Saudi women and other societal expansions, along with a focus on Saudi’s emerging sectors, the giga-projects and investing in the next generation.

The 2018 Forum will also demonstrate progress on the MOUs signed during the successful inaugural Forum in Riyadh in May 2017.  It will include new licences and MOU signings in sectors such as healthcare, entertainment, education and ICT.