VOLANTE Lucire KSA meets the CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, Jerry Inzerillo, who shares insights into the future plans for the UNESCO historical site. Taha Sakr speaks with him
From the August 2021 issue of Lucire KSA
In 2019, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, sponsored the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Diriyah Gate project, which aims to restore the historical area as a cultural heritage project and return it to its past in the eighteenth century so that it becomes a local and international tourist destination.
The future vision of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority reveals how it intends to blend modern expectations with its deep roots in history, and how it intends to transform it into a historical, cultural, and tourist destination at the global level, a story told for generations to come about the history of the proud nation and its loyal people, since the founding of the first Saudi state.
The master plan for the Diriyah Gate, which was established by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques at a value of 64,000 million riyals, aims to build a traditional, mixed-use civilized community that celebrates the ancient cultural history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In this interview with the CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, Jerry Inzerillo, Lucire KSA reviews the most prominent aspects of the development plans and what is happening inside the Diriyah area.
Jerry, you have had an illustrious career. Please tell us about your career before becoming CEO of DGDA.
I have enjoyed a five-decade career in the industry, starting as a busboy in Brooklyn, New York. During those decades I have been fortunate to work with leading visionaries and innovators and to realize some of the most exciting and sector-defining brands and launches.
Serving as president and CEO of IMG Artists, the global leader in artist management, I directed global strategies for music, events, festivals, government consulting, and artist and facility management businesses.
Before that, during my extensive time as president of Kerzner Entertainment Group, I raised the profile and positioning of its properties in South Africa, the Bahamas, Dubai, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, the Maldives, as well as conceptualizing the start-up of its One&Only and Atlantis brands.
From 1991 to 1996, I was COO of Sun City, the unique South African resort complex built by the renowned, late Sol Kerzner. While in South Africa, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a close personal friendship with President Nelson Mandela. In 1994, I coordinated major portions of Mr Mandela’s presidential inauguration in South Africa which was a true honour.
As founding president and CEO of Morgans Hotel Group, later rebranded as Ian Schrager Hotels, I opened the trend-setting Morgans, Royalton and Paramount in New York; the Delano in Miami Beach; and Mondrian in LA.
In June 2018, I was appointed by HRH the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be the founding CEO of the newly created DGDA. This is a truly auspicious and esteemed appointment, and I am extremely proud to be delivering this exceptional development for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Alongside my role at DGDA I serve as vice-chairman of the Forbes Travel Guide, where I was previously CEO from 2014 to 2018, which is universally accepted as the Olympic gold medal of hospitality.
Please share an update on the Development with our readers.
The following months mark an important moment seeing several key milestones in the roll-out, including our key openings of the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site and our dining destination, Bujairi Dining.
The restoration of the historic valley, Wadi Hanifah, has also begun. Wadi Hanifah runs for 110 km, and DGDA’s master plan includes 2 km² of this where we are focusing on rejuvenating and restoring the Wadi palm groves, which were a big part of life dating back hundreds of years ago. The restoration of historical agriculture in the Wadi also creates recreational opportunities with bridle paths and cycling routes created to offer a scenic way to enjoy the palm groves.
We’re extremely proud to have confirmed world-renowned global partners to help us realize our ambitious hospitality vision for Diriyah. The 141-room Samhan Heritage Hotel will be the first in a world-class hotel programme featuring internationally respected and sought-after names. Twenty of the hotel brand operator opportunities have now been allotted, with a further nine to come, featuring first-in-class hospitality brands that underpin the global confidence in Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination.
The Samhan Heritage Hotel, which will open in 2022, draws on our unique cultural footprint and is created in the traditional Najdi architectural style and will deliver a sense of past meets present with the footpaths of the original kings and heroes of Diriyah recreated within the grounds. Nestled amongst the natural beauty of the Samhan district and Wadi-Hanifah and just minutes from the At-Turaif UNESCO site, the hotel is designed to immerse visitors in the scenery and history of Diriyah.
This project is part of the ambitious Vision 2030, known for its lofty goals and objectives. How does DGDA dovetail to this?
Vision 2030 is the ambitious and far-reaching strategic blueprint to transform and modernize Saudi Arabia, creating new sources of revenue and job creation for the Kingdom. DGDA is part of a wider goal to raise tourism revenue from the current 3 per cent of GDP to 10 per cent of GDP by 2030.
As part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, 7 km² of Diriyah will be transformed into one of the Kingdom’s most prominent tourism destinations. Drawing on the region’s rich past, the Najdi-inspired Diriyah Gate reflects the architecture of 300 years past, newly adapted for 21st-century living. Alongside preserving and protecting the past we are building a new and improved city for the citizens of the future.
Whilst Diriyah will of course welcome tourists it will also be a living city, a place with a vibrant heart and a modern infrastructure placing the local community first, creating employment and opportunity for Saudi nationals. There will be a vastly upgraded and improved education and medical infrastructure as part of the transformation, successfully raising standards of living for Saudi nationals as per the strategic pillar goals of Vision 2030. In addition, over 55,000 jobs will be created producing significant opportunities for Saudi Arabia’s youth population.
What do we tell the reader about the development of Bujairi and At-Turaif?
Bujairi Dining will become Diriyah and Riyadh’s new premium dining and entertainment hub offering world-class F&B opportunities for both the local community and wider regional and international markets. We will be bringing in internationally renowned brand names, popular global cuisines, and local and regional specialties. The strategically curated selection of brands will ensure all dining requirements are catered for from fine dining in opulent surroundings to relaxed, family-friendly eateries catering for informal occasions.
The forthcoming opening of the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site, after a painstaking and sensitive restoration programme conducted in collaboration with UNESCO, is a source of great excitement. There is significant anticipation surrounding the opening of this site as it has been little seen, even by the domestic market. To be able to bring this historic site to life again and to preserve it for generations to come and connect the Saudi Arabian population to this significant piece of their history is truly remarkable.
What will you promise the citizens who eagerly await the end of the project?
Nowhere in the world is there such an iconic destination seamlessly blending years of historic significance with a vibrant and modern cultural and hospitality offering. I always say, ‘There is only one Diriyah!’ It is truly unique, and it is a unique experience that awaits those that will visit.
We know that our local and regional community is extremely keen to see the transformation of Diriyah and we thank them for their patience and support whilst we create this world-class infrastructure. Once travel opens up and we can welcome our international visitors we are confident that the visitor numbers will be extremely high and that Diriyah will become to Saudi Arabia what the Colosseum is to Rome or the Acropolis is to Athens.
Why did DGDA choose the Saudi Equestrian Federation to be a strategic partner?
As a giga-project that is part of the strategic arc of Vision 2030, our mandate is to work closely with all stakeholders in the Kingdom, both in the private and public sectors.
The Saudi Equestrian Federation is a natural partner for DGDA. Our goal is to protect and preserve authentic culture for generations to come. Equestrian pursuits have played a significant role in the history of both the Kingdom and Diriyah and we are delighted to celebrate and nurture this.
Tell us about the experience with Formula E Diriyah 2021.
We were delighted to once again host the innovative Formula E back in February and for Diriyah and the historic surroundings of the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage site to be the spectacular backdrop to this event. To hold Formula E's first night race was extremely exciting and our central role in welcoming and hosting prominent international sporting and cultural events is key to our strategy.
What is the future of your partnership with the Saudi Equestrian Federation?
DGDA sees many areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. Our joint goal is to revitalize the equestrian culture through leveraging Diriyah’s rich historical past and current ambition of developing an equestrian centre as part of the DGDA offering. The ongoing cooperation will reflect the cultural ties and traditions of Saudi Arabia, where horses and riders have long been part of the country’s history and a symbol of pride and belonging in the Kingdom. •
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