The Business Year

Jerry Inzerillo, Group Chief Executive Officer, DGDA

SAUDI ARABIA - Tourism

Jerry Inzerillo

Group Chief Executive Officer, DGDA

Bio

Jerry Inzerillo is regarded as one of the world’s great hospitality visionaries. As Group Chief Executive Officer of DGDA, he is responsible for all the work undertaken by the Authority and its management. Prior to joining DGDA, Jerry was the CEO of Forbes Travel Guide, where successfully expanded the company’s footprint to over 100 countries. He was also one of the key figures behind organizations such as One&Only Resorts, Ian Schrager Hotels, Four Seasons and Hilton Hotels, and served as President of Kerzner Entertainment Group overseeing tourist destinations and properties in South Africa, the Bahamas, Dubai, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, and the Maldives, as well as CEO of IMG Artists. In 2021, he was awarded one of the tourism and hospitality industry’s greatest accolades – Corporate Hotelier of the World – by HOTELS magazine.

“Diriyah Gate has previously hosted several key events such as the ATS Golf Championship, Tennis Championships, Equestrian Championships, Formula E World Championships, and, for the first time in the Middle East, the Boxing Heavyweight championship.”

Jerry Inzerillo, Group Chief Executive Officer of DGDA, talks to TBY about marketing Saudi Arabia, the redevelopment of Diriyah, and goals for 2023.

Saudi Arabia is the home to incredible historical landmarks and natural resources. How is the government capitalizing on the national heritage as a marketing tool to promote and to brand Saudi Arabia regionally and internationally?

Jerry Inzerillo: DGDA is unique in that we are re-establishing Diriyah as one of the world’s greatest gathering places, with At-Turaif, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, at its heart. A crossroads of culture which respects and honors its significant heritage and past but that is delivered for 21st century living. While Diriyah is a huge infrastructure and development project, the key differentiator is that Diriyah is anchored on the historic and cultural heart of the Kingdom – At-Turaif. At Diriyah, partnerships have been hand-picked to ensure they align with our place-making objectives and our heritage preservation agenda, which will make the visitor experience unlike anywhere else in the world. We know that Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination represents the future of travel, and we believe Diriyah, the birthplace of the Kingdom, will offer travelers something that is truly unique.

The redevelopment of Diriyah has great historic significance, representing the heartland of the Kingdom. Could you give us a brief outline how that history returns to the modern-day Diriyah as a heritage site? How will DGDA preserve that past and prepare it for the future?

Jerry Inzerillo: DGDA is responsible for the preservation of Diriyah’s history, celebration of its community and for establishing Diriyah as one of the world’s greatest gathering places. The UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif was the original home of the Al Saud family, and the seat of governance of the First Saudi State. To this day, it embodies the rich heritage and culture of the Kingdom. In line with design, development, and preservation standards, DGDA is creating an environment that enhances Diriyah’s historic, national and international relevance including the preservation of At-Turaif. DGDA is transforming Diriyah, the birthplace of the Kingdom, into one of the region’s foremost destinations for cultural knowledge-sharing activities and international events. We aspire to develop Diriyah into a global gathering place by creating rich experiences that narrate the stories of its history, instilling a sense of Saudi pride and creating globally renowned destinations and landmarks. We celebrate the local community and make sure that they are cared for in terms of educational development, scholarship programs, professional development and graduate programs creating solid foundations to build the best possible future for them.

By 2030, Riyadh (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) aims to attract 100 million visitors per year with Diriyah’s aim to host 27 million of those. How will Diriyah support the government to achieve such an ambitious goal?

Jerry Inzerillo: We continue to make remarkable strides on the journey toward realizing Diriyah’s sustainable, future-proof master plan across its 194-square-kilometer jurisdiction. Aimed at catering to all walks of life, DGDA’s ambitious development project seeks to unite historical landmarks distinct to the region with a variety of refined cultural destinations and modern retail outlets. DGDA’s strategy is profound yet straightforward; create new cultural, educational, commercial, hospitality and entertainment offerings to restore Diriyah as a globally connected city where Saudi history is respected, protected, celebrated, and created. The 14-square kilometer development is set to accommodate millions of visitors yearly with high-quality infrastructure, beautiful regional landscapes, and a variety of recreational venues that acknowledge and celebrate Diriyah’s local heritage. Through this plan, the authority aims to contribute to one of the Kingdom’s pivotal goals in line with Vision 2030, through supporting the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s national economy. As the historical and cultural heart of the Kingdom, Diriyah is proud to present a range of quality tourist destinations, which reflect a journey that exceeds 300 years of Saudi history. At its center stands the At-Turaif district, a UNESCO world heritage site inscribed on that list in 2010 and considered one of the most important historical landmarks in the Kingdom. It serves as an enduring reminder of the First Saudi State’s beginnings, the birthplace of its kings and heroes and the original home of the House of Al Saud.

How are you encouraging the involvement and the participation of the private sector in the Diriyah project?

Jerry Inzerillo: Diriyah is developing at pace, moving away now from the inception phase, and into the development and operation phases. As such, we are looking to bring in private investors from all over the world. Diriyah has already partnered with major global hospitality and F&B brands, such as Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood, Hakkasan and many others, but we are always looking to grow. The largest opportunities for private sector investment are in the tourism and hospitality spaces, infrastructure, construction, and real estate which we will activate through boosted investment and mutually beneficial public-private partnerships. Through DGDA, private sector investors can access the new opportunities arising through the National Investment Strategy such as new sectors funds, the soon to be launched Special Economic Zones, the availability of new funding instruments and a range of incentives. The fact is that there are a range of long-term investment opportunities for the private sector available at DGDA. For international investors, this spells a chance to be a part of a cornerstone project of Vision 2030, which will create thousands of jobs and marks the beginning of the Kingdom’s journey into a range of sectors.

The first Diriyah E-Prix in 2018 made history as the first-ever international motorsport event held in Saudi Arabia. How is this event helping DGDA to position Diriyah in the international map?

Jerry Inzerillo: The hosting of the annual motorsport championship was in line with DGDA’s ambitious strategy to transform Diriyah into a world-class global destination and was part of Saudi Arabia’s plans to bring international sporting events to the Kingdom, which are among the key objectives of Vision 2030. The Authority’s efforts to bring the Diriyah E-Prix to life came to fruition thanks to the extensive support it received from the visionary leadership and the government of the Kingdom, especially the Ministry of Sport. To date, Diriyah has played host to international events from boxing, Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art Exhibition, Riyadh Season and Formula E, we will welcome back in January 2023, we will continue to support our strategic partners in future events.

What other relevant events will take place around the historic town walls of the UNESCO World Heritage site?

Jerry Inzerillo: Diriyah Gate has previously hosted several key events such as the ATS Golf Championship, Tennis Championships, Equestrian Championships, Formula E World Championships, and, for the first time in the Middle East, the Boxing Heavyweight championship. In line with these efforts, we continue to look for opportunities to bring global events to Diriyah, a unique location and setting that adds value to the experience of these events. We are at our heart, however, Diriyah is the Kingdom’s foremost historical, cultural and lifestyle destination. So, we are focusing a lot of our efforts on raising our profile in that regard as well as continuing to attract global sporting events. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif, for example, is a site of enormous cultural significance that transcends national boundaries to teach present and future generations about Saudi Arabia’s heritage. The mud brick-built site boasts the remains of city walls, royal palaces, mosques, and buildings which together formed the heart of the First Saudi State and the home of the Al Saud family. Visitors will explore the ancient streetscapes and discover At-Turaif’s story through a range of state-of-the-art galleries, a choice of tours, activities, and experiences including the amazing ‘Nuzul’ performances which bring the past vividly to life through reenactors. As we continue to progress in our development plans and open more of Diriyah to the world, travelers will be able to experience that rich heritage and cultural vibrancy, and we are developing programs to revive the future longevity of the arts and craft, stone sculpting, mudbrick. An arts residency program for emerging artists to encourage and develop their practice is also in the works and will help bring both well-established and budding Saudi artists to the global spotlight. We are currently running a two-day Earthen Architecture seminar to further the global academic conversation around adobe mudbrick making. And we will continue to extend our programming to offer more touchpoints such as residencies, short courses and apprenticeships to ensure the future legacy of Diriyah’s traditional arts and crafts.

After being recognized as a Great Place to Work in Saudi Arabia, DGDA was placed on the 2022 list of the Best Workplaces in Asia. What’s behind such a remarkable achievement?

Jerry Inzerillo: We at DGDA are extremely proud to receive this recognition that resonates with our dedication to empowering and uplifting our valued team members. Diriyah holds an immensely important place in the hearts of all Saudis, it is the ancestral home of House Al Saud, the birthplace of the First Saudi State in 1727 and the cradle of Saudi culture itself. From the Authority’s senior leadership to the junior staff, there is an immense sense of pride in what we are doing. This is the largest and most important project many of us will ever work on. Each one of us is a guardian of Diriyah’s historical legacy and all of us know the significance of this project and are working hard to see its completion. This is the underlying reason for our organization to firmly believe in facilitating a collaborative, dynamic work environment, which is of the utmost importance as we continue working toward transforming Diriyah into one of the world’s premier cultural destinations. We have an existing thriving community, which is our absolute top priority. Ensuring our local residents can live, work and play in a way that supports their health, prosperity and wellbeing is factored into our approach. And we celebrate that local community and work to uplift them, ensuring they are cared for in terms of educational development, scholarship programs, professional development and graduate programs creating solid foundations for them to build the best possible future for themselves.

What are your key priorities and targets set in 2023 agenda?

Jerry Inzerillo: We have just launched two major milestones for both Diriyah and the Kingdom: our UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif is now open to the world, in tandem with the unveiling of our premier dining district, Bujairi Terrace. So, as we go into 2023, we are looking to ensure that our visitors have the best possible experience, immersing them in the heritage, culture and history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Looking ahead from now until 2030, each year will see us announce, ground break, and launch new assets, bringing us ever closer to our goal of making Diriyah into one of the world’s greatest gathering places. We are extremely proud to be the first giga-project to announce the opening of major elements of our masterplan in 2022. This is a huge milestone for DGDA and for the Kingdom and one that acts as testament to the incredible efforts put forward by the entire DGDA family.

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