Long associated with world-class and grand-scale projects, the GCC continues to increase government spending on infrastructure to meet the region’s diverse economic vision that drives the market forward. Added to this are Giga-Projects, new and upcoming mega-projects that will be situated across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and transform the region. Here, RLI takes a closer look at the schemes making waves across the GCC and hone in on the Giga-Projects that are starting to take shape.

The Charter of the GCC was formally established and signed on 25 May 1981, and consists of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – except Iran and Iraq.

With the increased scrutiny and focus on the Middle East in recent years due to the phenomenal growth across the region, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) now sits in the higher echelons of the retail, leisure, real estate, business and industry sectors.

Despite its lofty position in the world market, even the GCC has not been immune to the destructive nature of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

‘Trends in the GCC Retail Market: The State of Retail Today and Predictions for a post-Covid-19 World’ by CBRE and Roland Berger highlights that with the rise of online shopping, the traditional retail sector has experienced a considerable hit to footfall levels and, consequently, profitability even before Covid-19. Increased competition from e-tailers paired with challenging and competitive market conditions has called for larger, national-level action to support the traditional retail sector. During this time, governments in the GCC have sought ways to diversify their economies and increase Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). Driven by national initiatives, governments have begun to successfully implement business reforms and change ownership structures to attract and accommodate global players. A key focus of this has been to further enable businesses entering the GCC to wholly-own their businesses.

Research from Cityscape’s ‘UAE & MENA Real Estate Market Report 2020: H2 Analysis, September 2020’ claims that global lockdowns have reshaped consumer behaviour and it has become clear that the retail and real estate sectors have taken a huge hit over the past year. Despite this and the challenging situation created by the global pandemic, 46.46 per cent of real estate professionals still forecast growth for the GCC countries.

Projects across the GCC Region

The upcoming Mall of Dilmunia represents a balanced modernistic and futuristic architecture which creates an exciting family oriented universe within it. It will include retailers from across the MENA region that are yet to enter the Bahraini market, it aims to provide a quality entertainment, leisure and retail destination, which adds value to the Island’s tenants and guests. Being developed by Dilmunia Mall Development Company, the Mall of Dilmunia will redefine the shopping experience in Bahrain by adding urbanity to the retail experience through the development of a Boulevard. It provides visitors with the illusion that they are outdoors within a vibrant European cityscape. The open-air sky terrace allows visitors to take in the breath-taking view of the island of Muharraq. The terrace is to also include a beautiful mosque representing the Islamic family values, culture and lifestyle.

Madinat Al Hareer – also known as Silk City is one of the largest mixed-use project development concepts in the world. The whole project submittal was created as a voluntary initiative by Tamdeen Group in collaboration with Ajiyal Real Estate & Entertainment Co. and has received blessing and approval from the Kuwait Municipal Council, Planning Authority and the State’s Cabinet. It reflects the company’s vision of Kuwait’s potential to create an integrated and uniquely designed city that will raise the standard for urban architecture and planning throughout the world – a collaborative partnership between the private and public sector. The development plan aims to provide a comprehensive and integrated commercial and residential environment that combines innovation with superior design and would provide a whole new urban space for Kuwait’s ambitious expansion plans.

Madinat Al Hareer, Kuwait
Developers, Tamdeen Group & Ajiyal Real Estate & Entertainment Co.

The Al Khiran Hybrid Outlet Mall in Kuwait is set to meet heightened shopper expectations by offering a combination of high value and dynamic experiences through a mix of premium outlet shopping, curated dining, immersive entertainment, large format events & exhibitions and recreational leisure experiences when in opens in April 2022. The project area is spread over 350,000sq m, the total GLA of the upcoming outlet is 70,000sq m and it will be home to 300 retail stores. Al Khiran Hybrid Outlet Mall is being developed by the Tamdeen Group which has consistently delivered exceptional real estate including the award winning 360 Kuwait and Al Kout with a single-minded purpose; To Build Great Places.

Developer Majid Al Futtaim has announced a new opening date for Mall of Oman, which is now scheduled to open its doors to customers in September 2021. Mall of Oman is primed to become Majid Al Futtaim’s fifth and largest shopping and entertainment destination in the Sultanate. It will have 145,000sq m of retail space, comprising of dining outlets and a range of lifestyle experiences. In addition to 350 retail outlets, the mall will also house Oman’s largest VOX Cinemas, a Magic Planet family entertainment centre, a 12,100sq m Carrefour Hypermarket, and the largest indoor snow park in the Sultanate.

Qetaifan Projects is a real estate development company founded in October 2017. It is fully owned by Katara Hospitality; a leading global hotel owner, developer and operator based in Qatar. Qetaifan Projects foremost objective is to build cities of sustainable and intelligent infrastructure to support Qatar’s long-term economic vision. Qetaifan Projects first and main development is Qetaifan Island North; a distinct island featuring a state-of-the-art waterpark, luxurious hotels, unrivalled accommodation and world class facilities that make it a modern, globally-competitive community with a unique design that is inspired by the rich culture and nature of the region. This thriving waterfront hub represents a thrilling new way of life, as well as a symbol of vision, insight, and aspiration to develop into an internationally recognized landmark location and Qatar’s future iconic destination. Phase one of the project is planned for completion by November 2021.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, launched a project to turn the historic region of AlUla into an archaeological, cultural and touristic complex. Located 1,100km from Riyadh, AlUla covers 22,561sq km and it will become an open-air museum and Saudi’s cultural capital. The development will, therefore, include cultural sites, museums and wildlife reserves. Plans also include a luxury resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, set to open in 2023. It will be located in the mountains of AlUla, within the Sharaan Nature Reserve. The resort will include a summit centre, residential estates, restaurants, and a spa. In addition to this, AlUla will be home to a world-class museum on Arab civilisation and culture, as well as a research centre and university.

Mall of Dilmunia, Dilmunia Island, Bahrain,
Developer, Dilmunia Mall Development Company

Set to be unveiled in Q1 2024, Mall of Saudi will be the Kingdom’s flagship destination for retail, leisure and entertainment, offering Saudi Arabia’s most prestigious stores as well as new brands making their debut in the market. Mall of Saudi will represent the next generation in integrated shopping, entertainment and dining. Designed as a lifestyle venue, the mall will contain the most recognisable brands in retail, from fashion and home styling to electronics. Being developed by Majid Al Futtaim, the mall will feature 296,000sq m of GLA, over 600 stores, 10,300 parking spaces, 33,200sq m dedicated dining space, a five-star luxury hotel with over 275 rooms, a 9,500sq m Carrefour hypermarket and a 40,000sq m indoor ski slope and snow park. The master-planned layout and luxury concept stores will be the ultimate in accessibility and curation. This ambitious vision will deliver seamless transitions from the shopping experience to a wide variety of food and beverage options and a mix of entertainment venues.

Forsan Central Mall, Abu Dhabi UAE
Developer, Line Investments & Property LLC

As well as Saudi Arabia’s Giga-Projects, which are highlighted later in this article, the country has many smaller projects on the go. Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN) has an initial budget of $2.7bn to spend across multiple sites nationwide. Backed by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, SEVEN has started revealing some of its plans. This includes 20 family-friendly entertainment destinations, including a 100,000sq m complex in Riyadh, and 50 new cinemas. These will be the first public cinemas in the country for 35 years. SEVEN is also creating a second mega entertainment hub in Riyadh.

1364 will be a world-class shopping, dining and entertainment centre that offers Saudi society a place to express themselves and fulfil their modern desires. The 1364 shopping centre will be a location as unique as the Diplomatic Quarter itself, with extensive greenery and water features to ensure that the project is an extension and continuation of the Diplomatic Quarter, with well blended contemporary architectural practices and a modern, attractive merchandise mix to attract young professionals and families from all over Riyadh. An opening date for the project has not yet been announced by developer Unified Real Estate Development Co.

Reem Mall
Reem Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Developer, NREC & UPAC
Mall of Oman
Muscat, Oman, Developer, Majid Al Futtaim

Abu Dhabi’s billion-dirham waterfront social dining and entertainment destination, Al Qana, is developing a new Riviera-style marina, that will rejuvenate this area of the capital and on its launch will become ‘the place to be’ for those wanting to dine, socialise or sail off into the sunset. Featuring seven anchor destinations spanning over 2.4km of scenic and picturesque waterfront walkways, Al Qana offers residents and visitors a unique collection of attractions with leisure facilities from waterside eateries, the largest standalone cinema in Abu Dhabi, the Middle East’s largest aquarium, first-of-its-kind lifestyle hub including wellness facilities, first to the UAE VR zone, E-Sports arena, standalone exciting kids’ zone, and innovative landscaped community spaces. Due to open this year, the project is being developed by Al Barakah International Investment.

Designed around the concept of a bamboo forest by Design International, the Forsan Central Mall is set to be the primary and only all-in-one shopping, dining and entertainment destination in the Khalifa City catchment area. Offering a rich variety of options including nine cinema screens, 22 F&B outlets, a 15,000sq m Lulu Hypermarket and Department store and 89 retail stores, the mall will cater to the basic and aspirational needs of the residents of this upscale community, while also serving as its thriving social hub. The project is being developed by Line Investments & Property LLC.

Jubail Island Investment Company (JIIC) has confirmed that its flagship project – the Jubail Island in Abu Dhabi, is on track for delivery ahead of schedule. The company said the master planning and architectural services for the mixed-use Town Centre, awarded to DLR Glroup, is well underway. The AED750M mixed-use part of the development covers one million square feet and includes a range of apartments, retail establishments and an office park with separate office buildings. Home construction is on schedule to start in the first quarter of 2021 with completion slated for 2023, the developer said back in December. Poised to become Jubail Island’ main commercial and cosmopolitan hub, the Town Centre will also include a community centre, F&B and retail outlets, a family entertainment centre, a worship centre, a clinic, a supermarket, a business centre and nurseries.

Saadiyat Grove
Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, Developer, Aldar Properties

Reem Mall, the brand new shopping centre on Reem Island, will be home to the world’s largest indoor snow park. Once completed, the two million square foot shopping centre will offer new retail, leisure and entertainment options for people in Abu Dhabi. Attractions include the world’s largest snow park, a multiplex cinema, 85 food and drink outlets and 450 shops. Reem Mall is expected to open this year following the completion of the AED 4.4bn development by The National Real Estate Company (NREC) and United Projects for Aviation Services Company (UPAC).

Saadiyat Grove by Aldar Properties will be a magnificent development that offers elegant designed residential units located at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. The development comes in phases and features 60,000sq m of experiential retail, entertainment and leisure spaces designed to create an exclusive community surrounding. The impressive first phase of Saadiyat Grove will host 606 residential homes along with 200 retail outlets including state-of-the-art amenities such as a gymnasium, kids play area, community garden and running and jogging tracks. The development is set to transform the urban landscape of Abu Dhabi when it opens in 2022, with its strategic importance of the capital at both cultural and social level with its future vision of live, work and play model and with a focus on creating and delivering an exceptional and memorable experience.

Khorfakkan Beach, Sharjah, UAE,
Developer, Shurooq

Developed by Shurooq, Khorfakkan Beach is a 1km long ribbon pristine beach and a sparkling bay, nestled at the foot of a gently sloping mountain that meets the Arabian Sea. Less than an hour’s drive from Sharjah city, Khorfakkan Beach is an easy day trip or weekend getaway, offering stimulating value for all visitors. The destination includes a jogging and cycling track, a sports court for football and basketball, a selection of water sports and a central promenade with restaurants and coffee shops.

Giga-Projects in KSA

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in the midst of developing a number of large-scale, complex and multi-purpose construction projects that aim to transform the wider economy. Being constructed as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, these Giga-Projects follow-on from earlier King Abdullah-era mega-projects that included such schemes as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre.

Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ is a strategic blueprint to transform and modernise Saudi Arabia, creating new sources of revenue and job creation for the Kingdom to reduce its reliance on industries more traditionally associated with the nation such as oil. Tourism plays a huge role in this, and the tourism Giga-Projects that are being built are critical to the success of the pledge to raise tourism revenue from the current three per cent of GDP, to ten per cent of GDP by 2030.

Mall of Saudi, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Developer, Majid Al Futtaim

The predominant Giga-Projects – Amaala, Neom, Qiddiya and the Red Sea Project – are being funded and developed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund owned by Saudi Arabia. Together the projects are being touted as the most ambitious projects on Earth utilising technology, sustainability and natural landscapes.

Amaala is a luxury tourism project located on Saudi Arabia’s north-western coast that is inspired by the Red Sea. The scheme is rooted in philanthropy and will be composed of three communities based on the pillars of Art & Culture, Wellness & Sports and Sun, Sea & Lifestyle. Operating under
the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) Development Management Organisation established the blueprint for Amaala. The development broke ground last year and all phases will be completed in line with the realisation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Taking inspiration from the Bedouin tribes who traditionally hold a deep respect for and connection to the ancestral lands and seas that sustain them, a commitment to world-class sustainability is an integral part of the brand promise. While the Amaala resort destination spans over 4,155km of unspoiled terrain with the Prince Mohammad bin Salman Natural Reserve, approximately five per cent of the greenfield site will be developed, with the reminder managed for conservation value. The year-round destination will include 2,800 hotel keys and more than 900 private residential villas, apartments, and estate homes, alongside 200 high-end retail establishments, fine dining, wellness and recreational facilities. Amaala’s trio of communities – Triple Bay, The Coastal Development and The Island – will represent three different set of experiences for visitors and the project will become the heart of the Riviera of the Middle East.

1364 Shopping Centre, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Developer, Unified Real Estate Development Co.

A planned cross-border city in the Tabuk Province of north-western Saudi Arabia, Neom is set to incorporate smart city technologies as well as functioning as a tourist destination throughout its total area of 26,500sq km that will extend 460km along the coast of the Red Sea. Meaning “new future”, Neom is an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it comes at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions. It is being built as a living laboratory – a place where entrepreneurship and innovation will chart the course for this destination. The scheme is set to include towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centres, sports and entertainment venues and tourist destinations. Upon completion, it will be the home and workplace for more than a million citizens from around the world. The upcoming project will introduce a new model for urban sustainability and be a place that is focused on setting new standards for community health, environmental protection and the effective and productive use of technology. It is being designed, constructed and independently administered in a way that is freed from the outdated economic and environmental infrastructure that constrains other countries. In January 2021, the project unveiled plans for The Line, a 170km long linear city that is supposed to be able to house a million residents and it is planned to be powered by 100 per cent clean energy, and its infrastructure is set to cost $100bn to $200bn. The first scheme of the project is due to finish by 2025.

Another of the biggest Giga-Projects is Qiddiya. This is strategically located close to Riyadh and covers an area of 334sq km. It is set to become Saudi Arabia’s iconic entertainment destination and the world’s largest entertainment city – even surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida. Qiddiya will be split into five development areas. These are Resort Core, City Centre, Eco Core, Motion Core and the Golf and Residential Neighbourhood. Construction began in 2019 and the aim of the masterplan was to create a project that overwhelms visitors with a variety of activities. The scheme is set to be an important part of the changes that are currently happening in Saudi Arabia and be a catalyst for national transformation, creating a richer life for Saudi citizens while spurring innovation. In short, Qiddiya will be an inspiring place for a youthful Saudi society to fulfill ambitions; a place where they can enjoy, appreciate, aspire, advance and nurture their potential and stimulate interest in new professional pathways that help build a stronger future. Qiddiya’s first phase of development is advancing towards an early 2023 grand opening and will include over 45 projects and more than 300 activities across the creative, hospitality and entertainment and sporting sectors. The development has been designed to complement and enhance the epic natural landscape of the site, ensuring Qiddiya will present the best the world has to offer in a place unlike any other. The first phase will be followed by phase two which will open between 2024 and 2026 and phase three which will open between 2027 and 2031.

Amaala, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Developer, PIF

The upcoming Red Sea Project is a land and property development that was announced in July 2017. It is planned to be established on the Saudi Arabian Red Sea Coast. The project is focused on tourism, hoping to attract tourists to visit and explore and the Saudi western coast. This Giga-Project is expected the Saudi GDP by $5.86bn per year upon completion, when it will cover 28,000sq km of islands, beaches, desert, mountains and volcanic AREAS. The first phase of the scheme is expected to be completed by 2022 when 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels incorporating 3,000 hotel rooms will be constructed along with an airport, marina and recreations centres. The Red Sea Project is the world’s most ambitious luxury tourism development, and it will offer an exclusive experience unparalleled diversity for discerning global travellers. The vision behind this unique and game-changing development is to deliver unforgettable, personalised experiences in a stunning environment. The Red Sea Project will mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, waster production, and light and noise pollution, maintaining the destination at a level equivalent to a Marine Protected Area. The destination’s variety of islands and coastline will present a rare opportunity to enjoy culture and the natural world and together with the highest-quality personalised accommodation and service it will set new standards in luxury travel and position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map. The destination is expected to be fully completed by 2030, offering 8,000 hotel rooms across island resorts, mountain retreats and desert hideaways.

Neom, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Developer, PIF

Red Sea Project, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Developer, PIF

Diriyah Gate is a 7sq km mixed-use development inspired by new urbanism and historical Najdi architectural typology. Celebrating 300 years of history and Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage, it will be a world-class lifestyle destination integrating best-in-class international brands, unique dining experiences, and traditional local retail offerings. With a collection of luxury hospitality venues offering authentic experiences, it will be a regular gathering place for Riyadh’s residents and a must-see destination for tourists. The development, being constructed by Diriyah Gate Development Authority will feature an array of world-class cultural, entertainment, retail, hospitality, educational, office and residential areas, including more than 20 hotels, a diverse collection of museums, a bustling retail heart and over 100 places to dine. The project includes a series of outdoor plazas as well as a 3km escarpment walk offering views across the historic Wadi Hanifah.