Is NEOM Going as Planned and Will It Be Dubai's Regional Rival?

Published September 15th, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
Is NEOM Going as Planned and Will It Be Dubai's Regional Rival?
NEOM's official websites promises 'A place on Earth like nothing on Earth'. (Shutterstock: Peter Hermes Furian)
As part of his highly ambitious 2030 Vision, the Saudi heir has promised a new vibrant business oasis in the Arabian desert, which is NEOM.

As Dubai has for the last decades represented the modern face of the GCC, the NEOM city announced in 2017 by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman promises a new just as a competitive economic hub in the region. But where has its development reached so far and what is it going to look like?

As part of his highly ambitious 2030 Vision, the Saudi heir has promised a new vibrant business oasis in the Arabian desert, which is NEOM. The first three letters of the project's name stand for the Greek word NEO, meaning new, and the M letter refers to the Arabic word Mustaqbal, meaning the future, which highlights the premise of this new aspiring zone as the new future.

The $500 billion proposals first introduced in the fall of 2017 aims to inaugurate the Saudi efforts to diversify its economic resources and to limit the country's reliance on its number one product; oil.

To the northwest of the country and by the Red Sea coast, NEOM will be fully funded and owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund as a linking point between the Arabian Peninsula, West Asia in Jordan, and Sinai in Egypt. The two neighboring countries are looking forward to benefiting from the Saudi megaproject.

NEOM's vision includes a multi-industry digital city that is wholly operated using renewable energy sources and regulated using laws that are separate from those of the Saudi government, which according to experts echoes practices followed by other free economic zones such as Dubai and Singapore, making it the "place on Earth like nothing on Earth" according to the project's official website.

Branded as "a smart city" NEOM is expected to build a digital-friendly infrastructure; where people ride self-driving cars, see robots often performing routine manual everyday tasks, and have energy continuously generated using solar panels and windmills spread across 26,500 km2 near Tabuk.

The city, which will be 33 times bigger than New York City, will be featuring many futuristic symbols, such as "artificial rain, a fake moon, and holographic teachers," the Guardian reports.

Expected to be a popular tourist destination blessed with cooler weather compared to Dubai and other GCC cities, NEOM will be equipped with entertainment facilities that will boost the city's reputation as an art and culture spot in the Middle East.

Additionally, the new megacity is set to host thriving companies from all different business sectors, such as Energy, Water, Mobility, Biotech, Food, Manufacturing, Media, Entertainment, Culture and Fashion, Technology and Digital, Tourism and many others. 

The city is often dubbed as "futuristic." Crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg in October 2018 that Neom will be completed in 2025, and phase one is nearing completion.

According to several sources, the first phase of the project was completed in September, but the whole project will not come together before 2025.

Meanwhile, the regional business concern is now focused on whether the new mega-city will affect Dubai's long-standing popularity, especially if NEOM was actually able to present the world with the digital city it's promised. Even more influential is the potential of a financially more welcoming environment that could draw the attention of global giants to have their regional headquarters located in the promising new city.

Moreover, the less hot weather in NEOM compared to cities by the Gulf coast could support NEOM's ambitions to become the MENA's new face, especially as it pledges exceptional experiences ranging from booming businesses to entertaining leisure activities.

Finally, it remains unclear if the construction in NEOM city is underway as scheduled despite the COVID-19 pandemic which has left its marks on the Saudi economy the way it did everywhere else in the world.

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