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Neom: Constructing the Future of Saudi Arabia

What started as a glimmer of light in the northwestern Saudi desert is beginning to shine brighter in the Arabian night. The Kingdom is developing a beyond-the-present-state-of-the-art carbon-neutral city as well as establishing new nature preserves as it looks toward a post-oil-dependent economy and more free-flowing engagement with the global community. The project’s name, NEOM, derives from the ancient Greek prefix “neo” translated as “new” and the first letter of the Arabic word mustaqbal, “future.”

A pop-up NEOM luxury desert campsite

The estimated $500 billion, 10,000-square mile project will include “The Line,” a 110-mile long linear city without conventional cars or roads that will be home to a projected one million residents and welcome tourists from around the world. NEOM will also conserve vast areas of desert with landscapes reminisant of Petra’s environs in southern Jordan. As part of this effort, the project will reintroduce wildlife that disappeared centuries ago. 

One of NEOM’s dramatic landscapes at night

Historic and natural destinations already accessible within NEOM include the Hisma Desert with its red sand and sandstone rock formations, the spring-fed canyon of Wadi Tayeb Al-Ism which circuitously winds its way through a gauntlet of towering granite walls, the Midian Tombs which date back to the 12th century BCE, and in the Gulf of Aqaba, the Georgios G. Shipwreck, a popular diving spot because of its metal framework being home to a variety of marine species since the cargo ship became stranded on a coral reef in 1978. International resorts and desert camps will offer access to these areas as well as becoming playgrounds for those who simply want to soak up the Saudi sun any time of year.  The recently completed Neom Bay Airport allows direct access to NEOM while the first luxury brand hotels are preparing to open their doors in 2023.

A camel and rider traversing the NEOM landscape | Paddle boards await guests on Haddah Beach

Another major component of NEOM is OXAGON which will become the world’s largest floating structure. It will act as NEOM’s economic and industrial engine and operate on 100 percent clean energy with a focus on modern manufacturing, renewable energy, innovation, industrial research and the expansion of the existing port in the nearby city of Duba. 

A young resident of the Hisma Desert | Arabic bread being made at a desert camp

Plans are in the works to have NEOM operate independently from Saudi’s existing governmental framework and have its own tax and labor laws and an autonomous judicial system. This would put NEOM on an even playing field with Dubai as it seeks to attract business people and tourists to the region. A major goal of the project is for NEOM to act as a bridge between nations and people, in a region that has seen more than its share of division. It’s creators are positioning NEOM as “a new vision of what the future could be.” One can dream and sometimes dreams come true. Only the sands of time will tell.

A guide shows guests how to scale the cliffs in a slot canyon during a dune buggy tour to Al Joub Mountain | Kuwaiti artist Khawlah Ahmad in an abaya on a sand dune

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