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Saudi Arabia's 'birthplace' catches foreign investor interest

Riyadh

A SITE dubbed Saudi Arabia's birthplace that is undergoing a US$17 billion revamp is seeing interest from foreign investors, the head of development said, a boost for the kingdom as it struggles to attract overseas capital for its mega-projects.

Developers of the Diriyah Gate project, located on the northwestern edge of the capital Riyadh, have already awarded about one billion riyals (S$363.1 million) of contracts, with more tenders in the next few weeks, said Jerry Inzerillo, the chief executive officer of the project's development authority.

Groundbreaking is due to start in January at the Unesco world heritage site that's the ancestral home of the Saudi ruling family and will feature 20 hotels, eight museums and a golf course.

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The first Saudi state was formed in Diriyah in 1744 before extending across the peninsula.

The initial phase has "a lot of Saudi entrepreneurial capital, and now we're finding foreign capital" in addition to government funding, Mr Inzerello said, adding that global hospitality brands are among those showing interest.

Saudi Arabia is developing a slew of tourism and entertainment destinations as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy, encourage local spending and bring in foreign currency.

The government recently introduced online tourist visas, allowing dozens of nationalities simple access to a country that was previously one of the world's most difficult to visit.

Diriyah, a pet project of King Salman's, has been under development for years and parts of the site are already open to visitors.

While about one million people visited in the past 12 months, the authority says the site's expansion could increase that to 27 million annual visitors by 2030. BLOOMBERG