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Cityscape Global: Transforming KSA's Real Estate Landscape

Inc. Arabia speaks with the team behind Cityscape Global, Saudi Arabia's leading property event.

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Cityscape Global, a leading property development exhibition, conference, and networking event, made its debut in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2023. Organized by Tahaluf, a strategic alliance between Informa PLC, the Saudi Arabian Federation for Cyber Security and Programming (SAFCSP) and the Events Investment Fund (EIF), Cityscape Global 2023 shattered records, and left an indelible mark on the Saudi real estate market.

In an exclusive interview with Inc. Arabia, Rachel Sturgess, Group Director of Tahaluf, and Chris Speller, Vice President at Informa Markets, delve into the unparalleled success of the event and its implications for the Saudi real estate sector and Vision 2030. 

Cityscape Global 2023: A Triumph in Riyadh

The Cityscape Global event unfolded in the Malham district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 10-13 September. The event witnessed record-breaking success, with transactions and projects reaching a staggering $30 billion. The massive turnout of over 160,000 attendees from almost 170 countries solidified its position as the largest property event in the Middle East’s history.

Rachel Sturgess, Group Director of Tahaluf, highlights the event's significance, stating, "In its first edition in Saudi Arabia, Cityscape Global became the largest exhibition ever launched in the Middle East and the largest property event of its kind worldwide."

“This success would not have been possible if it was not for our stakeholders at SAFCSP, EIF, SELA, and the Saudi Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing (MOMRAH),” she adds.

The scale of the event was reflected in the utilization of 75,000 sqm, hosting over 380 speakers, and attracting over 11,000 international investors and property experts.

Cityscape Global was first established in Dubai, UAE, over 22 years ago, and it was hosted as a conference with around 150 delegates attending over the years. Now, the Cityscape brand has expanded and now is held in Qatar, Bahrain, India, and Egypt. However, the 2023 Saudi edition, represented a new dawn.

Vision 2030 Tunnel: Showcasing Saudi Arabia
Vision 2030 Tunnel: Showcasing Saudi Arabia's major projects

“Cityscape Saudi was an enormous success and was beyond all expectations. We knew that Saudi had huge ambitions around the real estate sector, and we wanted to support the kingdom in its ambition to put that on the world stage,” says Speller.

“The event gives the local and international ecosystem direct access to the wealth which sits within the kingdom. Perhaps more importantly, Cityscape allows us to show institutional and individual investors from the private and public sectors, opportunities that exist within the kingdom as well,” he adds.

A Platform for Saudi Real Estate Market and Vision 2030

As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, giga projects like Neom, Red Sea, Diriyah, Qiddiya, and ROSHN, have been launched over the past few years, and an event like Cityscape Global helps the kingdom showcase its ambitions.

“We’re already represented, we’re one of the first ever real estate shows ever to host all of the giga projects from the kingdom at one event, it’s never been achieved before. We've captured the local markets, now, it's globalizing that,” says Speller of Cityscape Global’s contribution.

“Saudi Arabia has an unbelievable vision, Vision 2030, which is being set by HRH Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, which has captured the minds of the individuals of the kingdom. But what it's also done is turn the real estate market on its head," says Speller. 

“What's happening in the kingdom and the size of the giga projects and the insistence on integrating sustainability and infrastructure on a different scale that we've never seen around the world, isn't just capturing our eyes, but it is capturing the interests of the entire ecosystem from around the world,” he adds.

Chris Speller. Vice President at Informa Markets
Chris Speller
Vice President at Informa Markets

Saudi Arabia is becoming one of the more exciting real estate markets globally. As stated in its 2030 Vision, Saudi Arabia aims to increase foreign direct investment from 3.8% to the international level of 5.7% of GDP. Cityscape Global 2023 has provided an excellent platform for that vision.

“Saudi Arabia is taking all the best parts of what's going on in the world and integrating it within its projects, which will become a reality by 2030. What they're really doing is looking at the individuals who are going to live, work, and occupy these new cities that they are building on a scale none of us has ever seen. They are building something which will literally change the world in how it considers what living might look like, from smart living to economics and ergonomics to how work and lifestyle combine,” he adds.

Tahaluf: A Catalyst for Economic Diversification in Saudi Arabia

Tahaluf, the driving force behind Cityscape Global, is a strategic alliance aimed at accelerating economic diversification, providing market access to international businesses, and attracting investment to Saudi Arabia. It is inspired by Vision 2030, aligning its goals with the ambitious vision set by the Saudi government for economic and social transformation, and it is embarking on this by bringing world-class events to the kingdom.

“The events industry is booming in Saudi Arabia. With Cityscape Global, we've seen high demand to bring the international and local markets together for these kinds of events in Saudi,” says Sturgess.

“Through these mega exhibitions, we create a platform for collaboration across the ecosystem where extensive networking takes place, leading to numerous on-site deals. We tracked deals to the value of $30 billion onsite but we believe the total figure is much higher. The unprecedented growth in the Saudi market mirrors the transformative aspirations of Vision 2030 and the kingdom's overarching ambitions, transcending multiple sectors," she adds.

Speller goes on to elaborate: “We don't want to build events which jump into a market for a year. We want to create events which are sustainable, which have longevity. The expectations and support from both governmental and personal partners were huge, reflecting a shared commitment to long-term success, and acknowledging that success may vary for each stakeholder.”

Cityscape Global, Saudi Arabia

Standing Out and Looking to the Future

Even with the record-breaking numbers, Tahaluf has made it a point to look forward and capitalize on the success of its first Cityscape Global event in Saudi Arabia, a success that has exceeded the expectations of Tahaluf and its partners.

“It is important to highlight that the real estate sector was a new opportunity for Tahaluf in Riyadh and to come and break all records across the Middle East was an amazing achievement. It is a testament to the dedication of our team and our partners,” Speller explains.

“Tahaluf has achieved phenomenal success with launching mega exhibitions, LEAP set records as the largest debut tech event in history and now claims the title of the world’s most attended. Following suit, Cityscape’s first edition has quickly become the leading property event globally. These achievements highlight Saudi Arabia’s emerging status as a prime location for impactful event launches” says Sturgess.

Sturgess emphasizes the amount of effort that is required to pull off such an unprecedented feat, and how it was achieved.

Rachel Sturgess. Group Director of Tahaluf
Rachel Sturgess
Group Director of Tahaluf

"At the core of our exhibitions is a strong emphasis on content, ensuring a valuable experience for our visitors through diverse content platforms. We featured five stages focused on discussions around what living in the future looks like; be that through design, architecture, smart cities, investment, and tech advancements. Our speakers ranged from Ministers, prominent celebrities, and institutional investor CEOs to architects and technology experts. The event included start-up competitions, hackathons, live auctions, and sessions specifically dedicated to female leadership in real estate. Our goal was to firmly establish Cityscape Global in Saudi Arabia on the map in its inaugural year."

“It goes without saying that the numbers we have been talking about couldn't have been achieved without the incredible efforts of our marketing teams, our partners at SAFCSP, and the Tahaluf and Informa teams. Major global campaigns were run with specific persona targeting, while simultaneously focusing on key messaging tailored for the local market,” explains Sturgess.

Meanwhile, Speller explains how he looks at success, saying: “From a commercial perspective, you consider the success of an event by how many of your exhibitors are willing to come back, and Cityscape Global has seen phenomenal success in that area.”

“Every single partner is looking at increasing their activations and activities at the show and that doesn't just look at the quantity of square meters that they’re looking to book. It also looks at how they can get involved with our content-led features, be it at our main stage or our property portfolio or our hackathon or the investor roundtables," says Speller. 

“Now what we're looking at is the expanse of international companies and international visitors who are looking to come to the next edition. When we look at our exhibitors, they are split between local and international, and what we're seeing now is probably 30% growth across the board, maybe 25% growth will be international and 15% will be local,” he adds.

Cityscape Global’s Recipe for Success

Speller and Sturgess share their views on how business owners and entrepreneurs should tackle the uphill task of launching a major event in a new market, and female leadership in Saudi Arabia.

Speller, who has been connected to Cityscape Global for the past 15 years says: “For a bit of advice, if you're launching anything, be it a new business or an exhibition, do your research, understand who your potential partners are, understand the size of your market, and clearly define your target demographic before you even consider stepping into a market as complex as Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else.”

When talking about the role Sturgess takes on as a female leader in Saudi Arabia she says: “I’ve never felt that women have special advantages over men or vice versa when working in Saudi, or anywhere for that matter. But I do recognize, as an employer with a higher ratio of women to men, the importance of showcasing women in leadership, especially for young women starting their careers. It demonstrates that at Tahaluf, advancement is based on merit.”

“We are trying to attract the best talent in the world to come to Saudi, and that means we actively look to hire women as well as men. Occasionally, I find myself sharing personal experiences with women looking to move and can truly advocate that Saudi is a welcoming place where everyone can thrive, regardless of gender,” says Sturgess. 

This article first appeared in the January issue of Inc. Arabia's digital magazine. To read the full magazine, click here

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