Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh in 2018.
About 5,000 delegates are paying $15,000 each to attend an investment conference in Riyadh next month.Many are seeking a slice of the Middle East’s oil billions. Growing interest in the conference also underlines Saudi Arabia’s rising global influence.
Demand for the Future Investment Initiative (FII), a Middle Eastern business conference known as “Davos in the desert,” is so strong that organizers are charging $15,000 to attend, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The seventh iteration of the event is being held in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh from October 24 to 26. Hundreds of speakers are scheduled to give presentations aimed at helping delegates develop “new strategies for understanding the greatest challenges and opportunities of the new era,” according to the FII.
The annual event is the largest investment and business conference in the Middle East, and has been compared to Davos – the Swiss ski resort that hosts the World Economic Forum each January.
Last year’s event attracted top brass from the likes of Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, Bridgewater Associates, and BlackRock, as well as FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried and Jared Kushner, per NPR.
It’s a marked change from just five years ago, when many western execs shunned the event following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul.
While claims about human rights abuses in the region persist, the interest in the conference suggests that many are prepared to overlook them.
That’s partly because of the slump in deals following sharp rises in interest rates in the US and elsewhere in the past 18 months, sparking renewed interest in the oil-rich Middle East.
As well as being a forum for discussion, the event is also an accelerator for Saudi investment opportunities. At last year’s conference, more than 28 investment deals worth over $9 billion were signed, according to the US-Saudi Business Council.
Attendees at the 2022 Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.
For the first time this year’s conference is only open to FII Institute members and strategic partners, at an annual cost of $15,000. Nonetheless, it is still expecting to draw 5,000 delegates.
The event also furthers Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans to diversify its economy and strengthen the country in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030. His strategy has seen the kingdom invest billions in sports, entertainment, and technology.
This year’s theme, The New Compass, signals the Saudis’ notion of a new global order in which “centuries-old economic models start to unravel while new systems and frameworks begin to take shape,” according to the event guide.
While the FII does not yet attract the same attention of the Davos summit, the demand for this year’s event underlines the rising global interest in Saudi Arabia.