Inside The Rig: Saudi Arabia's offshore theme park that plans to draw one million visitors

Oil rig theme park will have capacity for up to 10,000 guests when it opens

The adventure tourism megaproject will have 70 attractions, 800 hotel rooms and 11 restaurants spread across four areas. Photo: The Rig
Powered by automated translation

The Rig, the world’s first tourism destination on an offshore oil platform, will be capable of hosting up to 10,000 visitors, its chief executive has said.

The adventure tourism megaproject, with 300,000 square metres of gross floor area, will have 70 attractions, 800 hotel rooms and 11 restaurants across four areas.

Divided into four rigs, the theme park 40km off Saudi Arabia’s east coast, near the Berri oilfield and Al Juraid Island, aims to attract one million visitors a year, Raed Bakhrji, chief executive of The Rig told The National.

“We aim to attract around a million guests a year by the time the project reaches full maturity. It's designed to accommodate more than 10,000 visitors a day," he said.

Tourism is an integral part of Saudi Arabia's ambitious Vision 2030 programme, the overarching initiative tasked with diversifying the kingdom’s economy as it prepares for a post-oil future.

For those who don’t dive, underwater submarines will provide a unique view of The Rig from beneath the water
Raed Bakhrji, The Rig

The kingdom has plans to attract 150 million tourists a year within six years – having reached the 100 million milestone in 2023.

To help reach those targets, it is investing heavily in tourism. Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said last year that the country will invest $800 billion in tourism over the next decade to increase the sector's contribution to gross domestic product to 10 per cent by 2030, up from 3 per cent in 2019.

The kingdom is already seeing a return on its investments. Revenue in 2023 reached record levels of $36 billion (SAR135 billion) in 2023, an increase of 42.8 per cent in 2022, the Saudi Press Agency said last month.

Four rigs

Announced in 2021 by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, The Rig will stand out among the myriad attractions the kingdom is developing.

The rigs – The Jackup, The Derrick, The Riser and the Moonpool – will offer everything from ziplining over the sea to submarine trips under the water.

Guests will reach The Rig by helicopter, ferry, yacht or cruise ship, with marina space for up to 50 berths.

The Jackup rig, previously used to drill wells, is the smallest at 106 metres in height and will feature an immersive theatre that Mr Bakhrji says will be a world first.

“It’s going [to] have the first fully immersive theatre in the world where it allows the visitors to be part of the show versus watching a show,” he said.

“When people arrive at this Jackup rig, they're immediately inside this action-adventure story, where they get to learn and experience something very new using a lot of technology.”

Mr Bakhrji said the exact details of the immersive experience are not finalised yet but said guests will be part of the show.

“There are also a lot of actors that play specific roles and the experience is being enabled by virtual or augmented reality in some ways,” he said.

“It allows the guests to have a more live and more engaged experience than just sitting and watching a show.”

The Derrick, the largest of the rigs and themed on a drilling operation, will have four restaurants, an amusement park and a five-star hotel.

“The Derrick has a 6,000-person open-air multipurpose arena, capable of hosting a multitude of events, alongside an amusement park,” Mr Bakhrji said.

The second-largest is The Riser, which is focused on extreme sports and adventure activities.

“With the Riser, you will get experiences that push the boundaries and your limits when it comes to extreme sports and adventure,” he said.

“It has a very nice extreme sports and adventure park. We also have a splash park that is our spin on conventional water parks, as well as hotel and dining options."

The Moonpool has a diving centre, an underwater restaurant and a water activity centre, plus marinas for yachts and boats, and arrival and supply jetties. It also has a boutique hotel with around 70 rooms.

"For those who don’t dive, underwater submarines will provide a unique view of The Rig from beneath the water," he said.

Mr Bakhrji said he expected the majority of The Rig's visitors to come from the kingdom and the Gulf region.

"While The Rig is a global audience destination, we expect that approximately 70 per cent of our customers, or at least people that will be coming more frequently, would be people from closer regions such as Saudi Arabia and the GCC," he said.

Large-scale project

The Rig, which involves transforming a decommissioned rig and building three new platforms, is a “large-scale project”, Mr Bakhrji said.

Engineers and specialists from around the world have been brought on board to come up with the design and plan to execute the project.

"Our approach will involve a consortium of multi-contractors that will probably build portions of it, modularly in certain areas,” he said.

"Then using offshore construction and heavy lifters to combine these smaller pieces and assemble the bigger pieces and eventually float them or move them to location, so they can be installed at the final destination."

At the current engineering stage, around 1,000 people are working on-site, which is expected to increase once it moves on to construction.

"We are about to float our construction tenders to the markets, where we are expecting to bring the new contractors on board in the near future," he said.

"The construction will see a significant increase in manpower.”

Norwegian oil and gas magazine Upstream, citing an industry source, said contracts for The Rig are “likely to be worth more than $5 billion”.

Mr Bakhrji, however, declined to put a figure on what the project will cost.

“Those are figures that may have been given by some estimators, but no official costs have been disclosed. We're still finalising the engineering details,” he said.

The tender awards are expected to be announced over the next six months to eight months.

“I think at that later stage we will be in a better position to give a value for the project from the PIF,” he said.

Mr Bakhrji was also coy on confirming an opening date.

"The moment I award an EPCI (engineering, procurement construction and installation) contractor and have a consortium of contractors committed to bringing this vision to life with us, I'll share a more concrete [opening] date," he said.

"This step is very crucial, as securing the right group of contractors is fundamental for the construction phase."

Environmental impact

The Rig is close to Juraid Island, which is an area of conservation, with programmes developed by the kingdom's National Centre for Wildlife Preservation to mitigate the project's impact.

"The environmental and social impact assessment is some of the most important work that we're doing, and it's related to the engineering work,” he said.

He said protecting the natural habitat will be beneficial for The Rig and its visitors.

“There's a lot of work that will be done to enhance the coral reefs around the island, as well as the flora and fauna. The island is home to turtle nesting and some birds native to the Arabian Gulf,” he said.

"Our goal is to maintain this ecosystem because the coral reefs provide a lot of interesting and dynamic diving opportunities for our guests, providing a nice mix of natural and industrial scenery at the destination."

Updated: April 23, 2024, 11:16 AM