May 27, 2018 / 12:13 PM / 6 months ago

Saudi hires ex-Canary Wharf executive for Red Sea tourism project

RIYADH, May 27 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Project, a vast tourist development aimed at opening the economy, has been registered as a standalone company and will be headed by a former director of London’s Canary Wharf business zone, the country’s sovereign wealth fund said on Sunday.

In July, the Saudi government revealed plans to develop resorts on some 50 islands off the kingdom’s Red Sea coast and said the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, will make initial investments and seek partnerships with international investors and hoteliers.

The Red Sea Project, part of an ambitious strategy to open the economy and ease social restrictions, will be built between the cities of Amlaj and al-Wajh, will offer a nature reserve, heritage sites and diving in coral reefs. It will break ground in the third quarter of 2019 and complete its first phase in late 2022.

PIF has two other major initiatives: NEOM - a $500 billion business and industrial zone extending into Egypt and Jordan - and Qiddiya, a multi-billion dollar entertainment resort that will be 2-1/2 times the size of Disney World.

“The Ministry of Commerce and Investment has registered The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) as a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by PIF,” a statement emailed to Reuters said.

John Pagano, the former managing director for development, of the Canary Wharf Group in London, has been appointed as chief executive officer, it said.

The Red Sea Development Co will create a special economic zone with its own regulatory framework, visas on entry, relaxed social norms, and improved business regulations, the statement said, adding this will enable it to develop and deliver a world-class international tourist destination.

The fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is believed to have assets totalling about $183 billion and is set to receive a cash injection next year after the share sale of state oil giant Saudi Aramco.

The crown prince has said more than half of the proceeds from that sale would be reinvested domestically to develop promising Saudi non-oil sectors. (Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Saeed Azhar and Alexandra Hudson)

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