Saudi Arabia has commenced work on its mega heritage tourism project that is estimated to cost over $2 billion as per local news media website.

Spread across 10 million square metres in the new Taif city, this project would feature museums, recreational areas, hotels, schools and a convention centre. It would be developed in coordination between the private and public sector with the latter expected to account for 89 percent of the investment as per the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).

The approval budget for this project under the National Transformation Program 2020 is SAR815 m amounting to $217 million that would be allocated for creating significant infrastructure projects in addition to few recreational, cultural and educational projects.

Under the plans, the five important public-sector projects comprise interactive learning museums, an Okaz Museum, an exhibition and convention centre, an Arab poetry Academy that would host heritage events, festivals, poetry and also theatre fairs throughout the year and Okaz park that would have an open-air theatre and a handicrafts centre.

The 18 projects earmarked for the private sector include recreational parks, heritage and shopping villages, open souks, accommodation inns, ecological camps, heritage lodges, shopping malls, spa and treatment centres, hotels, business centres, social club, international schools, health clubs, sport facilities, furnished tourist apartments, health tourism complexes, and tourist accommodation complexes.

The mega project is anticipated to create more than 15,000 jobs, of which 80 per cent will be reserved for young as reported by a leading news media agency.

The foundation for the project was laid by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and adviser to King Salman, during the opening of the annual Souq Okaz festival last week.

Along with the new heritage project, the wider Souq Okaz City will also develop a suburb with housing for about 750,000 people, a new international airport with the capacity to handle five million passengers a year in its first phase, a technology hub, Taif University, and an industrial city.

Saudi has been focusing on boosting its tourism sector as part of its ambitious Vision 2030 strategy to diversify its economy away from oil.

As part of the strategy, the kingdom aims to attract 1.5 million tourists by 2020 and increase the revenue generated from tourism to 18 per cent in the next 14 years, according to reports. Currently the number of tourists visiting the kingdom stands at around 200,000.

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