Five exciting mega-projects set to boost economies in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and beyond
The UAE and Saudi Arabia aim to diversify from oil by investing in alternative revenue sources to strengthen Gulf economies. Since 2020, the GCC has launched nearly 30 real estate mega-projects worth about $1 trillion. These projects, centered on innovation and sustainability, seek to lessen the region’s reliance on fossil fuels. However, “mega” doesn’t solely refer to property investments; it’s any high-cost initiative with significant economic impact. Here are five top mega-initiatives in the UAE and Saudi Arabia now.
1. NEOM – Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, central to Vision 2030, is a $500 billion mega-city spanning 450 km along the Red Sea, 33 times larger than New York. This “living lab” emphasizes sustainable living through 100% renewable energy and advanced tech. More than a smart city, NEOM blends innovative business with eco-conscious living. A standout feature, “The Line”, is a car-free zone prioritizing people over infrastructure, covering 34 square kilometers, housing 9 million, and creating 380,000 jobs. Set for 2025 completion, NEOM targets 14 sectors with potential yearly revenues of $100 billion and aims to contribute $48 billion to the GDP by 2030.
2. Emirates Crop One – UAE
Emirates Crop One, set to be the world’s largest vertical farm, is a $40 billion sustainability project between Ag-Tech startup Crop One Holdings and Emirates Flight Catering. Due to limited arable land and water scarcity, the UAE imports nearly 90% of its food. This Dubai-based, 330,000-square-foot facility aims to address this by producing over 900,000 kilos of produce annually, using 95% less water with its AI-driven recycling system. Initially supplying for Emirates and UAE stores under the Bustanica brand, the project, aligning with the UAE’s food and water security strategies, seeks global expansion to revolutionize global food production.
3. Store of the Future – UAE
Despite the e-commerce surge post-COVID-19, Mall of the Emirates in Dubai partnered with Cisco to reinvent in-store shopping. The Store of the Future offers a tech-augmented shopping experience appealing to tech-savvy individuals. With VR, AI, magic mirrors, and advanced sensors, shoppers enjoy personalized, immersive interactions. Products reveal details onscreen, and ‘beauty mirrors’ allow no-contact makeup trials. Cloud tech provides retailers with insights into customer behavior and demographics. Designed for the post-pandemic era, this store showcases how technology bridges the physical and digital for a safe, engaging shopping journey.
4. Etihad Rail – UAE
Etihad Rail, set to connect the UAE’s seven emirates with neighboring GCC countries, was initiated in 2009 and targets completion by 2024. This 1,000 km rail network aims to serve 36 million passengers and transport 60 million tonnes of freight yearly by 2030. Rising environmental concerns and the pandemic have amplified interest in sustainable rail travel over flying. Etihad Rail is projected to boost the UAE’s economy by approximately $54 billion in the next half-century, with $12 billion from enhanced tourism and business connectivity.
5. Mega-sporting initiatives – Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is tapping into the global sports scene to diversify its economy and enhance tourism. The monumental signing of soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo to Al Nassr FC for an estimated $200 million annually positions him as the world’s top-earning player. This, along with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and events like the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and WWE’s 2023 debut in Saudi, is set to boost Middle Eastern sports tourism by 30%, potentially generating $600 billion in revenue.
Next generation mega-projects
As technologies advance and environmental concerns increase, the potential for innovative, large-scale profitable projects will also grow. In the not-so-distant future, we could be seeing mega-projects such as:
- Floating farms, resorts, and even floating countries
- Space resorts, space elevators, and space-based power stations
- Weather command centres that can control extreme weather conditions
- Mega bridges that connect countries such as North America with Asia, Europe with North Africa, and Egypt with Saudi Arabia
The need for countries to diversify their economies, offering a more sustainable, connected, smarter way of life for residents and visitors will be the main drivers of innovation and investment in the future. It’s vital, therefore, that mega projects play a central part in protecting and improving the planet for future generations.