Saudi Arabia's $500 billion mega-city Neom is planning to open the first of its hotels by the end of 2022 as it targets hosting about one million visitors by 2025 and 5m by 2030, its tourism chief said.
The futuristic city will open up to 15 hotels a year in the period between 2023 and 2025, before ramping up the pace to 20 to 30 hotels annually thereafter, Andrew McEvoy, sector head of tourism at Neom, told The National during the Arabian Travel Market on Tuesday.
"We're now under way, so we're starting to develop our first assets, by the end of next year our first hotels will start to come out of the ground, there's a lot of construction going on," he said. "The first hotels will open by the end of next year."
Neom, on the west coast of the kingdom north of the Red Sea, is one of the signature giga-projects in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil. It will develop 14 key economic sectors for the future from biotech to mobility. Neom's tourism sector is expected to contribute $16bn to the kingdom's gross domestic product by 2030.
With a mix of four-star and five-star properties, the mega-city aims to attract all kinds of visitors.
"If you think about getting five million visitors by 2030, you need a lot of room keys," Mr McEvoy said.
"We're not just a sun and sea leisure destination," he said. "We'll have the full mix of what I call the visitor economy: so everyone from corporate travellers to people who are taking an adventure trip or a holiday."
Neom's tourism sector is currently in discussions with major hotel brands and is close to finalising the details, Mr McEvoy said.
"We've spoken to the big five brands, IHG, Hilton, Accor, etc. and we're well under way with that," Mr McEvoy said.
There will be plenty of outdoor activities to keep the hotel visitors busy during their stay.
"If you came in now you can snorkel, dive, kitesurf, hike, mountain bike, so all of these natural assets will be developed in the next 12 months," he said. "Our first visitors will be either fly-and flop, sun-and-sea, and a super-yacht audience because the Red Sea really lends itself to that."
Off the coast of Neom there are 39 islands, 10 of which will be developed "over time", the executive said.
The initial number of visitors expected next year is expected to be between 20,000 to 50,000, Mr McEvoy said.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted global trade and forced governments to shut borders, work on Neom's tourism project accelerated.
"During Covid, the kingdom ... doubled down, we worked harder, we got ahead of the game, we did not stop," he said. "So I think we're in a good position."
The project's delivery targets will be met on time, Mr McEvoy added.
The project will not require raising funds as it is backed by the Public Investment Fund, he said.
The next tourism projects in Neom will be in the stretch along the Aqaba Gulf and the Red Sea coast, a "big development" at the port, and development in the mountains, Mr McEvoy said.
This is in addition to The Line, a 170km-belt of re-imagined urban development.
"The next projects which will be announced, beyond The Line, will be one of those beautiful regional destinations that will put enough there so that people will have a great experience," he said.
The futuristic city is built on the four pillars of heritage authenticity, environmental regeneration, Arabian hospitality and advanced technology.
"We all watched Star Wars and Avatar, and I think this will be literally science-fiction brought to life," Mr McEvoy said.