With global oil prices falling, even the king of Saudi Arabia is opting for a local break this year.
Known for his extravagant summer holidays in Morocco and the French Riviera, King Salman bin Abdulaziz a-Saud, 82, has this year opted to spend the summer in Neom, the futuristic mega-city Saudi Arabia is building from scratch in the remote north west.
Plummeting oil prices have hit the world’s biggest oil exporter, and Crown Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s son, believes the only way for the kingdom to survive is to diversify its economy.
The “city” of Neom, which will cost CAD$647 billion to build and has already been referred to as the region’s answer to Silicon Valley, will stretch across 10,230 square miles — making it 20 times the size of London.
The plan is to create jobs in the tech sector, as well as build up a tourist resort along the underdeveloped Red Sea coastline. The kingdom has predicted it will draw investments worth pounds 380 billion from its vast Public Investment Fund, as well as local and international investors.
Some analysts say the new city may be decades off, if it opens at all, warning that many countries have tried and failed to build their own Silicon Valleys.
The relatively low-key local holiday will come as a surprise to many, after last year’s jaunt to Morocco, when he took an entourage of 1,000 to his beach palace in Tangier. More than 900 hotel rooms were reserved for the occasion.
In 2015, shortly after his ascension to the throne, locals on the French Riviera were angered when parts of a public beach were closed for members of King Salman’s vacation party.
In contrast, the king arrived at Neom earlier this week and was pictured holding a cabinet meeting in the new city, still off-limits to the public.
The king “has arrived in Neom, where he will spend some time in rest and recreation”, the official Saudi press agency said. It was unclear where he would stay in the still unfinished area.
According to Reuters, the government had asked local construction companies to build five palaces for the king, crown prince and other senior royals on the Red Sea coast.
Plans shows opulent buildings with modern and traditional Moroccan-style architecture featuring Islamic designs and colourful ceramic tiles. The complex of palaces is set to include helipads, a marina and a golf course.
Neom is not the only way the royal family is trying to raise money. Prince Mohammed is estimated to have seized up to $800 billion in cash and assets from members of the royal family and prominent business figures accused of corruption and detained for weeks at the Ritz Carlton hotel.
The biggest victim of the shakedown was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi’s richest businessman.