Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands offer rich biodiversity and ecotourism potential

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Farasan island mangroves and aquamarine waters are teeming with wildlife. (Reuters)
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A car crosses the long, photogenic Al Maadi bridge, connecting the islands of Farasan Al Kubra and Farasan Al Sughra off the coast of Jazan. (Saudi Tourism Authority photo)
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The Farasan Islands is also home to plenty of wildlife. (National Center for Wildlife photo)
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An ancient mosque has withstood the test of time in a deserted village in the Farasan islands. (Shutterstock)
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Farasan Island Corniche public sitting area. (Shutterstock)
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Aerial view of a boat touring the lush mangroves and waterways of the Farasan Islands off the coast of Jazan. (Saudi Tourism Authority photo)
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Saudi Arabia has more than 1,300 islands spotted across its coastlines. (Saudi Tourism Authority photo)
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An aerial view of a boat touring the turquoise waters and limestone reefs of Farasan Islands off the coast of Jazan. Saudi Tourism Authority photo)
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Updated 10 June 2023

Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands offer rich biodiversity and ecotourism potential

  • Farasan is made up of more than 170 islands and islets off the Kingdom’s coast of Jazan
  • These hidden gems of the Red Sea are host to ancient sites and diverse marine habitats

RIYADH: Located in the pristine turquoise waters of the Red Sea, roughly 50 km west of the Saudi port city of Jazan in the southwest corner of the country, is an archipelago made up of about 170 islands known as the Farasan Islands.

Long the subject of fascination, not least for their natural beauty but also their rich history dating back to the ancient Romans and the time of Ottoman rule over the Arabian Peninsula, the Farasan Islands are considered a rising star by the Kingdom’s tourism industry.

“Saudi has more than 1,300 islands spotted across its coastlines,” a spokesperson for the Saudi Tourism Authority told Arab News. “As part of Vision 2030, Saudi is working on a number of ambitious island projects with sustainability at the heart of preserving these natural wonders.”

An ancient mosque has withstood the test of time in a deserted village in the Farasan islands. (Shutterstock)

A paradise for divers, the archipelago’s coral islands offer precious opportunities for the study and appreciation of marine biodiversity.

The coastlines and islands of the Red Sea are characterized by a variety of ecosystems, including red and black mangroves, seagrass beds, coral, saltmarshes and macroalgal reefs.

The islands are composed of reef limestone, rising to elevations of between 10 to 20 meters above sea level. The highest point among the islands reaches some 75 meters above sea level.

Aerial view of a boat touring the lush mangroves and waterways of the Farasan Islands. (Saudi Tourism Authority photo)

The coastlines surrounding the islands are covered in pristine white sand made from powdered coral and seashells, while their waters are home to a variety of fish and other sea creatures, including whales, dolphins, green and hawksbill turtles and manta ray.

On dry land, the local fauna includes the largest population of Idmi gazelle in the Kingdom, sooty falcon, white-eyed gull, osprey and Red Sea Noddy birds, among others. Additionally, the islands are home to numerous rare and endemic species of plant, including endangered red mangrove trees.

Farasan Islands are home to wildlife, such as the Idmi gazelle, numerous birds as well as rare and endemic plant species. (National Center for Wildlife photo)

In 1996, the “Juzur” Farasan, as the islands are also known, were declared a protected area by royal decree, thereby recognizing them as one of the Kingdom’s most treasured natural assets.

The Farasan Islands Protected Area includes more than 84 islands, the largest of which is the Farasan Al-Kabir, or Greater Farasan, followed by the Saqid, or Lesser, Farasan and Qummah — all of which are inhabited by people working in fishing and producing millet and maize.

Officials managing the protected area are building on extensive research and fieldwork to preserve both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as animal and plant species, many of which originate from the Tihamah coastal plain of western Saudi Arabia.

A visitor examines seashells at one of the popular beaches in the Farasan Islands. (Saudi Tourism Authority photo)

Included in the protected area program are educational talks and campaigns to help raise awareness about the importance of preserving the area for fishermen, farmers, schools, local leaders and young people.

The area is part of the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Additionally, the Saudi Wildlife Authority has developed a plan to oversee and maintain the rich biodiversity of the islands. 

In March 2021, the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves welcomed the first nomination dossier from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of “Juzur” Farasan as a biosphere reserve.

Aerial view of a boat circling round the waterways of the Farasan Islands off the coast of Jazan. (SPA file photo)

The nomination was approved by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme on Sept. 15, 2021, during the commission’s session held in Abuja, Nigeria, marking the first time the MAB-ICC had met in Africa.

Underway are several projects to develop the area for ecotourism, including its various natural and cultural heritage sites and numerous archaeological sites that reflect the history of the area. Several civilizations, including the Romans, visited and occupied the islands.

In August 2022, Saudi Arabia’s Heritage Commission announced the discovery of several structures and artifacts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries following extensive excavation work by a joint Saudi-French team.

Several civilizations, including the Romans, visited and occupied the islands. (Shutterstock)

The pieces included Roman folded armor made of copper ingots and armor known as “lorica squamata,” which was frequently used during the Roman era between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

Archaeologists also found an inscription of garnet for “Genos,” a renowned Roman figure in the Eastern Roman Empire, and the head of a small stone statue.

The Saudi-French team has made several exploratory trips since 2005, and has uncovered architectural and archaeological remnants dating as far back as 1400 BC. Such discoveries underline the importance of the ancient ports that once controlled the marine trade routes of the Red Sea.

Such archaeological discoveries also demonstrate the importance of the Farasan Islands and the mainland in ancient times as a crucial meeting point for trade and cross-cultural exchange.

Now, with the Kingdom’s borders open to global investment and visitors and with numerous giga-projects underway, the Farasan Islands have the potential to become one of Saudi Arabia’s top tourism destinations.

Riyadh-based British expatriate Ciara Philips vacationed in Farasan last year. Supplied

While upscale hotels and resorts are still under construction as part of the Red Sea Project, a trip to the Farasan Islands can be an enriching journey of leisure and discovery in a still largely untouched region of Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi is something of the last frontier in terms of tourism and I certainly felt that last year when I went and wanted to take a weekend trip outside of Riyadh,” Ciara Philips, a British expatriate, told Arab News.

“I chose the Farasan Islands and booked FlyNas flights to Jazan, leaving after work on Thursday and arriving back early evening on Saturday. The flight schedules worked perfectly.”

Philips, who moved to Riyadh at the end of 2020 to accept a job in cultural strategy, said that she found it difficult to find “concrete information about the islands, other than what is on VisitSaudi and blog posts from other intrepid expats.”

Several projects are underway to develop Farasan Islands for ecotourism. (National Center for Wildlife)

At the last minute, just a day before setting off, she found a weekend trip with Masarat Tours. In Jazan she met a local guide and spent two days with him and two girlfriends who had traveled from Jeddah.

Together they went to a small fishing harbor where they explored the mangroves by boat and various tiny islands inhabited by birds, crabs and other native species.

“It was magical,” said Philips. “Totally Robinson Crusoe. I had bought a snorkel and mask the day before and explored the warm, still waters, finding all sorts of brightly colored shoals of fish. There were pelicans swimming in the sea and the shells on the beach were enormous.”

Several projects are underway to develop Farasan Islands for ecotourism. (National Center for Wildlife)

Over the course of her two-day trip, Philips says that she saw barely anyone besides her friends and their guide — an ideal break from the busy, sweltering and dusty streets of Riyadh during July.

“I learned a few more words of Arabic, but better still was the truly contemplative time exploring the seas and the many uninhabited islands of Farasan,” she said.

As Saudi Arabia continues to diversify its economy, these pristine islands, so sparsely populated and so rich in nature and wildlife, constitute an ideal resource in the Kingdom’s quest to become a global hub for sustainable tourism.


Four Riyadh heritage sites that define Saudi Arabia’s national story

Wadi Hanifah. (Ali Mubarak)
Updated 22 September 2023

Four Riyadh heritage sites that define Saudi Arabia’s national story

  • Wadi Hanifah, Diriyah, Masmak Fortress and Qasr Al-Murabba all played a central role in the capital’s birth and development
  • From the site of defining battles to the cradle of the first Saudi state, Riyadh’s architecture bears silent witness to its rich past

LONDON: Numerous natural, archeological and architectural wonders have come to define Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s national story. Below are short sketches of four of the more prominent ones.

Wadi Hanifah 

Of the many ancient seasonal waterways fed by the slopes of the 800 km-long Tuwaiq mountain range that cuts through the Najd plateau, it is Wadi Hanifah that has played the most significant role in the history of Saudi Arabia. 

In 1446 Ibn Dir, the ruler of Hajr, a town on the site of modern-day Riyadh, offered land on the fertile banks of the wadi to his cousin, Manaa’ Al-Muraide, leader of the Marada clan of Al-Duru tribe of Bani Hanifah. 

The clan originated in central Arabia, but generations ago migrated east to settle near Qatif on the shores of the Gulf, at a place they named Diriyah, after their tribal name. 

Wadi Hanifah. (Supplied)

Al-Muraide accepted Ibn Dir’s invitation and led his people back to their roots, naming their new home Diriyah after their old settlement and transforming the land into a productive oasis, nourished by the fertile soil of Wadi Hanifah. 

Ever since the wadi, for centuries a silent witness to epoch-defining triumphs and tragedies, has flowed through the story of Saudi Arabia, nourishing the land and its people. 

Today Wadi Hanifah, restored and rejuvenated to its former glory, is at the heart of the transformation of Diriyah into a global tourism destination focused on the culture and heritage of this historic region.


Diriyah rose to prominence in about 1720, when Saud ibn Mohammed of Al-Muqrin assumed the leadership of the town, founding the House of Saud and paving the way for the foundation of the First Saudi State in 1727 by his son and successor Imam Mohammed. 

Under Mohammed and the three subsequent rulers of Diriyah, the power, wealth and influence of the state grew rapidly, until by 1811 it ruled an area larger than that of the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

Diriyah Gate’s escarpment walk. (Supplied)

In 2010 the mud-brick At-Turaif district of Diriyah, home of the forebears of the Saudi royal family, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In 2019 King Salman laid the foundation stone of the Diriyah Gate project, a 7 sq. km development built in the unique Najd style of mud-brick architecture, which now is nearing completion as a global cultural and lifestyle destination, hosting museums, galleries, restaurants, shops, homes, public squares, hotels, recreational spaces, educational institutions.

Masmak Fortress 

After the defeat of 1818, Saudi fortunes ebbed and flowed for the next 84 years, until, in 1902, a 26-year-old prince grew tired of his life in exile in Kuwait. 

Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, who would achieve worldwide fame as Ibn Saud, the man who would go on to found the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, led a small party of warriors west to Riyadh, attacking Masmak Fortress, driving out the rival Rashidi forces and reclaiming his family’s rightful heritage. 

In a photograph taken in 1912, the mud-brick turrets of the fort loom large behind the city walls, looking out over nothing but the open land beyond. Today the fort is in the very heart of the city. 

The walls have gone, swept away in the 1950s by the rapid growth of the Saudi capital, but the fort remains as a museum and a precious protected symbol of the hard path and heroic endeavors that led ultimately to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Qasr Al-Murabba 

Completed in 1938, the “Square Castle” has a particular historic significance in the story of Riyadh. 

Following the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the Qasr Al-Hokm, where King Abdulaziz had masterminded his decades-long campaign of unification, was no longer large enough to serve as the base for the government of the new nation. 

The decision was made to create a new, purpose-built seat of government and the Qasr Al-Murabba was built on land 2 km to the north of the old city. 

It was the first development of any size outside the city walls, and paved the way for the first major expansion of Riyadh beyond its original confines. 

It was also the last major mud-brick building to be constructed in a capital on the verge of the modern era shortly to be ushered in by the discovery of oil. 

In 1933, King Abdulaziz granted the Kingdom’s first concession to Standard Oil of California, forerunner of Aramco, and on March 4, 1938, the year the Qasr Al-Murabba was completed, a test well drilled at Dammam struck oil in commercial quantities for the first time. 

Today Al-Murabba stands at the heart of the King Abdulaziz Historical Center, a cultural campus comprising the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives, or Darah, the King Abdulaziz Grand Mosque, and the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, all housed in buildings created using traditional Najdi architectural style and materials.


Riyadh: From ancient city to Expo hopeful

1446: Manaa’ Al-Muraide, leader of the Marada clan of the Al-Duru tribe, settles on the fertile banks of Wadi Hanifa. 

1720: Saud bin Mohammed Al-Muqrin assumes leadership of Diriyah, northwest of present-day Riyadh. 

1727: Mohammed bin Saud Al-Muqrin founds the First Saudi State with Diriyah as its capital. 

1746: Riyadh established by Dahham bin Dawwas. 

1818-1821: Diriyah attacked and destroyed by Ottomans, ending First Saudi State. 

1824: Riyadh becomes capital of the Emirate of Nejd when Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Saud founds the Second Saudi State. 

1865: Masmak Fort built under the instructions of Abdulrahman bin Sulaiman bin Dabaan, the prince of Riyadh. 

1891: Second Saudi State toppled by Ottomans, Riyadh taken over by Rashids. 

1902: Ibn Saud commands raid on Masmak Fort, recaptures Riyadh, founds Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

1910: Population: 14,000. 

1919: Royal family relocates to Riyadh. 

1930: Population: 27,000. 

1932: Riyadh becomes capital of newly unified Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

1936: Construction of Qasr Al-Murabba commissioned by Ibn Saud. 

1945: Qasr Al-Murabba completed. Red Palace commissioned. 

1950: Old city wall dismantled. 

1957: King Saud University opens. Nasiriyah royal residential district built. 

1962: Population: 169,185. 

1963: Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, later King Salman, becomes governor of Riyadh Province. 

1974: Population: 666,840. 

1978: Riyadh TV Tower built. 

1981: Riyadh railway station opens. 

1983: King Khalid International Airport opens 35 km north of Riyadh. 

1985: Tuwaiq Palace built. 

1986: Diplomatic Quarter Mosque constructed, winning Arab Cities Award for Architecture in 1990. 

1987: Population: 1,417,000. King Fahd International Stadium and GCC headquarters built. 

1995: Masmak Fort museum opens. 

1997: Population: 3,100,000. 

1999: National Museum of Saudi Arabia established. 

2001: Population: 4,137,000. 

2010: Population: 5,188,286. At-Turaif district in Diriyah listed as UNESCO World Heritage site. 

2012: Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman Al-Mogbel becomes mayor of Riyadh. 

2013: King Abdullah Environmental Park inaugurated. 

2019: Royal Commission for Riyadh City established. King Salman lays foundation stone for Diriyah Gate project. 

2020: King Salman Park announced as part of Green Riyadh. City hosts G20 summit. 

2023: Riyadh makes formal bid to host World Expo 2030.

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93d National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030

Updated 6 sec ago

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93d National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030

  • In a special edition, Arab News explains why Saudi capital is perfect venue for world fair

RIYADH: Welcome to the day Saudi Arabia turns green! Saudis will take to the flag-decked streets in their thousands today to celebrate the Kingdom’s 93rd national day.

A raft of free activities will be available for families to enjoy the day.

Among the most eagerly awaited events is the air show by the Saudi Hawks, the aerobatics team of the Royal Saudi Air Force. Pilots will take to the skies in their six BAE Hawk Mk.65A aircraft for a gravity-defying display, leaving a trail of Saudi flags in their wake.

Horse-drawn artillery and other vehicles will take part in a military march through Riyadh at 4 p.m., accompanied by musicians from the Border Guard, the National Guard, and the Royal Guard. The parade will travel from Prince Mohammed bin Saad bin Abdulaziz Road to Umm Ajlan Park in the Qairawan neighborhood.

There will also be special events at the already buzzing Boulevard Riyadh City, including fireworks, a drone show and traditional folklore acts. 

The celebrations are a dress rehearsal for what the Kingdom can expect if its bid to host the Expo 2030 world fair is successful. In a special edition of Arab News today, we explain why the answer to that should be a resounding “yes.”

We explore the natural, archeological and architectural wonders that define Riyadh, learn about the history of the Ardah dance, and sample the Kingdom’s coffee culture.

We unpack how Salmani architecture redefined Riyadh’s development, highlighting the capital’s megaprojects, and look at how King Salman International Airport and the Riyadh Metro are transforming the city.

Riyadh’s hospitality industry serves up what it has to offer Expo visitors, while we examine the distinctive Saudi characteristic of generosity.

We highlight Riyadh’s thriving business landscape and booming retail sector, and check its cultural pulse, including headline events such as Noor Riyadh.

And taking readers on a tour of Expo 2030 preparations, we speak to Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions, which will elect the host city by secret ballot in November.

‘World Expo projects prepare a city for the future by stimulating development,’ BIE chief Kerkentzes tells Arab News

Updated 22 September 2023

‘World Expo projects prepare a city for the future by stimulating development,’ BIE chief Kerkentzes tells Arab News

  • Kerkentzes is secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions, which selects expo host nations
  • BIE member states will convene in November for 173rd General Assembly to pick the host of the global event in 2030

PARIS: A World Expo is an event filled with magic and wonder for visitors from all walks of life, and allows host nations to highlight their achievements while celebrating global diversity. This is why the Saudi capital Riyadh decided to launch its bid to host Expo 2030, the outcome of which will be announced about two months from now.

For the past 170 years, from the original Great Exhibition in London in 1851 to its most recent iteration as Expo 2020 Dubai, these prestigious events have captivated visitors and provided a showcase for technological advances alongside historical and cultural curios.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Dimitri Kerkentzes, the secretary-general of the Bureau International des Expositions, the organization that chooses the host nation from the submitted bids, spoke about the history, ongoing relevance and future of this landmark cultural institution.

Countries interested in hosting a World Expo must apply years in advance by submitting a letter and candidacy dossier to the BIE. Officials from the organization then carry out an inquiry mission to evaluate the city’s candidacy and consider its proposals.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision” -  the Crown Prince with the RCRCSA team overseeing Riyadh’s Expo 2030 bid. (Photo: Royal Commission for Riyadh City)

“The missions examine factors such as the motivations behind the candidacies, the appeal of the proposed theme, the proposed site and its plans for reuse after the expo, the levels of commitment and support from both local and national authorities, participation projections, and the financial plan,” Kerkentzes said.

The hosts of the next two expos have already been chosen — Expo 2025 will take place in Osaka, Japan, and Expo 2027 in Belgrade, Serbia — but the winning bid for Expo 2030 is yet to be decided. In addition to Riyadh, Busan in South Korea and the Italian capital Rome have applied to host the event. BIE member states will convene for their 173rd General Assembly in November, during which they will vote to choose the winning candidate.

Saudi Arabia wowed visitors during Expo 2020 Dubai with its award-winning pavilion, which welcomed 4.6 million people and featured 230 unique programs, including 11 business events designed to promote investment, tourism and entertainment in the Kingdom.

In March this year, authorities in Riyadh welcomed a BIE delegation, led by Kerkentzes, that arrived to carry out its five-day inquiry mission. The delegates met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, government ministers, other senior officials, and representatives of the private and social sectors, to discuss the feasibility and viability of the city’s bid to host the global fair.

At the time, Kerkentzes said the Kingdom had “everything needed” to host a successful expo. Dozens of countries and organizations have pledged their support for the Saudi candidacy, including China, Israel and Palestine, Iran, Serbia, the UAE, and at least 24 African nations, as well as the Caribbean Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

But the success of the event itself is not the only priority for the BIE when choosing a host. Kerkentzes said the “expo should be an integral part of the city organizing it, and should be based on the needs and aspirations of the city and its residents.”

Saudi crown prince attends the Kingdom’s official reception for Riyadh's bid to host World Expo 2030 in Paris on June 19, 2023. (SPA)

He added: “The expected legacy must undergo rigorous planning and be intrinsically linked to the host city’s long-term plans and vision. Expos are extraordinary platforms for culture, communication, solidarity, cooperation, progress and public diplomacy. They engage civil society, governments and businesses in their immediate and future environment.”

For decades, expos have left indelible marks on host cities. The Eiffel Tower, for example, which was constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, continues to attract huge numbers of tourists every year.

“Since the very first one, in London in 1851, World Expos have demonstrated their role as strategic tools for urban economic and cultural renewal,” said Kerkentzes. “World Expos are places of discovery and meetings that allow people to immerse themselves in a theme, stimulate their imagination, mobilize ideas, and forge meaningful connections with the world.

“Visiting a World Expo offers limitless opportunities to learn more about other nations, to encounter new cultures, to discover achievements, innovations and creative solutions, and to engage in discussions about the future.

“Whether through immersive exhibitions, cultural programming, stunning architecture or a wide range of activities offered, a day at a World Expo site is unlike any other experience, online or offline.”

To the cities chosen to host these prestigious events, an expo represents a massive opportunity for growth and development.

Saudi Arabia unveiled the master plan for Riyadh Expo 2030 during an official reception organized by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City in Paris in the presence of delegates of 179 member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). (Photo: Royal Commission for Riyadh City)

“Expo projects prepare the city for the future by stimulating the development of infrastructure and facilities that will serve residents, tourists and businesses in the long term,” said Kerkentzes.

“Through construction, planning, tourism and the development of new industries, World Expos lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs, stimulate regional development, and mobilize all citizens in a future-oriented project.”

Despite a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai, which ran from October 2021 to March 2022, was a major success for the city, the UAE and the wider region. Under the theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” 192 countries took part in the six-month event, which attracted more than 24 million visitors.

A year after the event ended, a study by Ernst and Young estimated it would generate a total of 154.9 billion dirhams ($42 billion) for the UAE economy between 2013, when it was chosen to host, and 2042.

If successful with its bid, Riyadh expects to welcome 40 million in-person visitors and 1 billion via the Metaverse, a first in the history of the World Expo. Expo 2020 Dubai ranked 12th in terms of the number of attendees but Kerkentzes said success cannot be measured in terms of footfall alone.

“From the candidacy phase onward, the host country and city set certain ambitions for the event, whether it’s the renovation or creation of a neighborhood, economic revitalization, or improving reputation and branding,” he said.

“Success should, therefore, be measured years later based on these initial objectives and those that may have formed during the project’s development.”

The KSA Pavilion at Dubai Expo. (Supplied)

Most studies of the success of expo events tend to focus on short-term economic benefits but a few have analyzed the long-term results, and Kerkentzes highlighted the findings of several studies that showed the positive economic effects on host countries.

Expo 1970 in Osaka, for example, is credited with growing Japan’s country’s gross domestic product by 2.1 percent, while Expo 2000 in Hannover reportedly generated €12 billion ($13 billion) in economic benefits for Germany.

Expo 2010 in Shanghai, which holds the record for the largest number of attendees, generated €12 billion from direct revenues alone, while total tourist revenues generated by the event exceeded €218 billion.

“For Expo 2015 in Milan, the SDA Bocconi School of Management estimated a total production increase of €31.6 billion between 2012 and 2020 driven by the expo,” said Kerkentzes.

“This equates to one percent of Italy’s national production, with the event itself adding €4.1 billion in value for 2015 alone. The financial impact after the expo, €17.7 billion, was largely due to increased tourism in Italy and the growth of businesses related to the expo.”

The unique nature of an expo as an event makes it challenging to measure its success. Although certain benchmarks, such as attendance, international participation and economic effects, are often used, other markers, such as an improvements in quality of life, enhancement of a country’s national brand and effects on diplomatic relations, can provide a more nuanced and complete picture.

“The success of a World Expo also depends on what happens in the six months that follow,” said Kerkentzes.

“This is crucial for the BIE. Both the host country and city must excel in preparing for the event, implementing it, and then managing its aftermath to ensure that the infrastructure is immediately useful, as was the case after Dubai’s expo.”

2030 Expo bid puts the making of a green Riyadh in the limelight

Updated 22 September 2023

2030 Expo bid puts the making of a green Riyadh in the limelight

  • Green Riyadh Project was launched in 2019 to transform the Saudi capital into a more sustainable and livable metropolis
  • From planting native species of trees to boosting water conservation, urban planners are using every tool in their kit

JEDDAH: For decades, traditional urban planning approaches were applied in major cities across the world, resulting in sprawling forests of concrete devoid of adequate greenery. Riyadh, the Saudi capital, was no exception.

That is why the Green Riyadh Project was launched in 2019 to transform the city into a more sustainable and livable metropolis, by increasing total green space from 1.5 percent to 9 percent and planting some 7.5 million trees, irrigated with recycled water.

By 2030, project developers plan to have greenified some 120 neighborhoods, covered more than 1,000 km of main roads in greenery, and to have developed more than 40 city parks.

Already, one cannot visit Riyadh without noticing the abundance of greenery, with millions of trees having been planted and new parks and green spaces sprouting up all over the city.

The project is having a positive impact on the environment in a city where summer temperatures can rise as high as 55 C.

Extra green spaces are helping to reduce air pollution and mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing average air temperatures in urban areas by 2 C and surface temperatures by up to 15 C.

In addition to its environmental benefits, the urban greening project is also improving the quality of life for Riyadh’s residents, providing much-needed areas for recreation and relaxation, while also helping to reduce noise pollution and heat-island effects.

“With a city that has rapidly grown horizontally for years, it is becoming costly — physically, financially and environmentally — to move around,” Shahad Manea, an urban designer based in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“Green spaces are engines to encourage vertical expansion, making cities more efficient, dense and convenient. This in turn establishes and increases public reliance on the cheapest and healthiest mode of transit — walking.

“Walkable cities are not only healthier but also more human, as the pace becomes slower, interactions become more frequent, encouraging dialogue, strengthening communities and improving quality of life.”

As with other cities around the globe, Riyadh has not escaped the twin pressures of population growth, expected to reach 15 to 20 million by 2030, and hotter summers.

Rising temperatures lead to greater demand for air conditioning, which in turn pushes up energy consumption, jacking up the burning of fossil fuels, increasing pollutants in the air, and contributing to even higher temperatures.

“Looking at the long-term gains, green spaces contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas effects,” said Manea.

“This does not only reduce environmental pollution and ozone threats but also causes temperatures to decline, strong winds to break down, helps minimize sun exposure and dryness, reduces the impact of sandstorms, and regulates CO2 levels.

“This in turn will reduce cooling and irrigation costs, the over-reliance on private transit and its gas consumption.”

One innovative way to maximize green spaces in urban areas is to transform rooftops and other exterior structures like bus shelters into gardens, which can help reduce interior temperatures and collect rainwater — particularly during heavy downpours.

“These roofs and other green areas are great spaces for rainwater collection while minimizing runoff overflowing the streets, which causes costly damage annually,” Manea added.

Indeed, in order for a greening project of this scale to remain sustainable in Saudi Arabia’s desert climate, planners have made water conservation and reuse a top priority.

The city intends to improve its current usage of treated water for irrigation purposes from 11 percent to 100 percent, increase the amount of treated water used for irrigation from 90,000 cubic meters to a million by 2030, and to plant native species that can withstand the dry climate.

About 72 native shade-plant species compatible with Riyadh’s environment will be used for the project.

These include trees and shrubs such as the Acacia nilotica, also known as the gum arabic tree, and other species from the same family, Ziziphus spina-christi, known locally as Al-Sidr, wattle, hollyhock, queen’s wreath, and neem tree.

“Green spaces are always relevant, useful, timeless, and never fall out of style,” said Manea.

“However, to future-proof these spaces, the sole use of native plants should be implemented to make sure these places remain in good condition as these species self-sustain, prevent local ecosystems from going extinct and require minimal irrigation and maintenance.

“The use of native species reduces the chances of infrastructure complications when functions of the green space shift. Additionally, large green spaces should be constructed with differentiation in mind.

“Adaptable spaces are differentiated, meaning they are not rigid and defined enough, which makes them flexible to have room for future functions, public interpretations, and technological advances.”

Once its aims are achieved, the Green Riyadh Project will be a milestone that contributes to fulfilling a key goal of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to promote the capital’s position among the world’s top 100 most livable cities.

How World Expo in Riyadh could be the perfect capstone for Saudi Vision 2030 achievements

Saudi Arabia is bidding to host World Expo 2030 in Riyadh to highlight its vast potential to the world. (@Riyadh_Expo2030)
Updated 22 September 2023

How World Expo in Riyadh could be the perfect capstone for Saudi Vision 2030 achievements

  • Saudi capital is competing with Busan, in South Korea, and Rome to host the prestigious event
  • Event will be an opportunity to showcase the changes accomplished in less than a decade

JEDDAH/RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is bidding to host World Expo 2030 in Riyadh to highlight both its vast potential to the world and the tangible progress it has accomplished with its wide-ranging Vision 2030 economic and social reforms. 

“During the eight years since the announcement of Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom has witnessed changes and developments that surpass what has been accomplished in the past 80 years of its history, and Riyadh is a part of this success story,” Princess Reema bint Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, said recently.

She was speaking in Paris in June during the 172nd General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions, or BIE, the intergovernmental organization that selects host nations for World Expo.

If the BIE chooses Riyadh to host the event in 2030, the Saudi capital will feature pavilions from 246 countries and welcome about 40 million visitors, who will see for themselves the realization of Vision 2030. 

Riyadh is competing with Busan, in South Korea, and Rome to host this prestigious event. 

“Our vision is a strong, thriving, and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in the Vision 2030 leadership message. 

He added: “Our vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method. We will welcome qualified individuals from all over the world. and will respect those who have come to join our journey and our success.”

Vision 2030 seeks to utilize every valuable asset Saudi Arabia has in order to diversify its economy and invest in its people by creating a more sustainable and equitable future, new employment opportunities, and harnessing the potential of young Saudis. 

These goals influence every aspect of the Kingdom’s development, from environmental sustainability to economic diversification. 

In addition, Vision 2030 also includes dozens of megaprojects and giga-projects spread across the Kingdom, as well as hundreds of initiatives, programs and reforms. These aim to drive the growth of domestic industries and attract investment. 

The reform program’s rapid progress demonstrates Riyadh’s commitment to development, achieving prosperity, and ensuring inclusivity for all citizens. 

As a testament to Saudi Arabia’s growth and path to prosperity, the International Monetary Fund recently named the Kingdom the fastest-growing economy among the G20 countries, with an overall growth rate of 8.7 percent.

Vision 2030 was launched in 2016 by the crown prince, who devised it as a broad framework for developing his country by establishing a diversified and sustainable economy and a new and vibrant society. 

The Kingdom created the Vision Realization Programs to make this agenda a reality. VRP covers the development of programs pertaining to quality of life, housing, fiscal sustainability, health, human capital, and the experience of Muslims performing Hajj. 

Saudi Arabia continues to demonstrate its commitment to transforming society by implementing these programs.

Hosting an international event of Expo 2030’s magnitude requires significant infrastructure. Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to win the bid has played a pivotal role in accelerating the implementation of Vision 2030’s goals. 

The Kingdom has already allocated a budget of $7.8 billion to investments for Riyadh in anticipation of the expo. More broadly, Vision 2030 aims to reach $3.3 trillion in national-level investments by the end of this decade. 

Riyadh Expo 2030 also presents a golden opportunity to attract foreign investment, contributing to the economic diversification goal of Vision 2030.

These reforms have been progressively introduced since the initial announcement of the Vision in 2016, beginning with modest changes that have since evolved into substantial and far-reaching transformative reforms.

A significant turning point occurred on Oct. 24, 2017, when the crown prince delivered a groundbreaking speech at the Future Investment Forum, where he unveiled NEOM, a colossal $500-billion megacity project, and underlined the Kingdom’s commitment to “modern Islam.”

Less than a year later, on Apr. 18, 2018, the Kingdom lifted its longstanding ban on movie theaters, marking a crucial first step toward restructuring its cultural landscape. Mere months later, on June 24, 2018, Riyadh went one step further and lifted the decades-old prohibition on women driving. 

The latter move proved a milestone in its journey toward societal progress and proof of the Kingdom’s willingness to enact hitherto unimaginable changes.

While some may view these reforms as long overdue, they are monumental for Saudi Arabia, and set the stage for the momentous change Vision 2030 envisages, fundamentally transforming the Kingdom’s society and economy. 

For decades, Saudi Arabia welcomed precious few tourists besides pilgrims. Its economy was also far from diversified or dynamic, relying almost solely on the revenue generated from oil exports. All this has begun to change rapidly in just a few short years.

Today, the Kingdom hopes to draw millions of visitors from around the world to expand its growing tourism sector, which has seen record growth since the start of this decade, while fulfilling Vision 2030’s objective of creating more employment opportunities for Saudi citizens. 

Central to Vision 2030, this initiative has provided the world with a unique opportunity to explore a land that was once shrouded in mystery.

Aside from catering to tourists seeking leisure in its many luxury resorts, Saudi Arabia has also shone a spotlight on its cultural and historical heritage sites, which were previously difficult for foreign tourists or even archaeologists to access. 

On Feb. 10, 2019, the Kingdom took a momentous step by unveiling the ancient oasis of AlUla, inviting tourists to experience its rich history and cultural heritage firsthand. 

Riyadh Expo 2030 would act as a platform for Saudi Arabia to share its history, traditions, and cultural diversity with the world, promoting cross-cultural understanding and supporting Vision 2030’s cultural preservation goals.

The Kingdom promises the expo will become the “first environmentally friendly exhibition that achieves zero” carbon emissions, Riyadh Expo 2030 team member Nouf Bint Majid Al-Muneef said in a speech delivered to BIE. 

The goal to host a zero-carbon emission expo also aligns with Vision 2030’s commitment to clean energy and sustainability. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia aims to derive 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

BIE member states will choose the host country for World Expo 2030 at their 173rd General Assembly scheduled for November this year. 

If Saudi Arabia wins, it will seize the opportunity to showcase its technological advancements, and the sweeping cultural and societal changes that Vision 2030 has accomplished in less than a decade.