Delivering Saudi Arabia’s pipeline of mega-events

31 May 2024
Good preparation and planning are vital for the kingdom’s upcoming events, says PwC's Kenny Linn

Mega-events are often viewed as catalysts for growth as they contribute to economic diversification, develop human capabilities and enhance a country’s image on the global stage. 

In December 2023, Saudi Arabia was chosen to host Expo 2030 in Riyadh. Additionally, the Asian Winter Games is scheduled to be held at Trojena in 2029 and, as the sole contender for the 2034 Fifa World Cup, the kingdom is also likely to be confirmed as the host for that event.   

For Saudi Arabia, these events will serve as catalysts for economic transformation, enhance urban infrastructure and strengthen the kingdom’s international stature. 

In a report entitled Meeting the Future, PwC in collaboration with the World Government Summit, looks at how such events provide a boost to a host city or nation’s economy, attracting visitors and generating employment, facilitating investment in infrastructure, as well as enhancing brand exposure.

While they create a legacy effect, however, these events commit the host country to fixed timelines and full cost responsibility, with no flexibility for budget adjustments or scope reduction and no option to reverse decisions if things are delayed.

Project delivery

Mega-events, such as world expos, the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup, involve a complex long-term planning process with multi-stakeholder involvement. Delivering projects on time and on budget can be a challenge for governments, and there are risks of escalating costs, often requiring states to provide additional funding to organising committees to manage these overruns. 

At PwC Middle East, our capital projects and infrastructure team has examined major government projects in Saudi Arabia, the region and around the world and has identified several key ingredients that can increase the likelihood of successfully delivering high-profile events.

> Fix the scope early and apply rigorous change control: Changes to time, cost or design can result in cost and schedule overruns. Given the tight deadlines, the bar for changes should be set higher for mega-events than for traditional projects.

> Invest in programme and project management: For mega-events, a complex set of projects need to be coordinated and sequenced to come together on time, in a concentrated period of activity with a fixed deadline. This requires exceptional project management and delivery within individual organisations, as well as outstanding programme management within government, to integrate responsibilities and manage the commercial and political aspects of the event.

• To build a strong team, government employees with experience of managing major projects and financial management skills should be brought together with private sector experts possessing specialist knowledge and track records.

• Economising on salaries can be counterproductive and investing in incentives and retention systems is crucial for stability. This fosters a work environment where team members build trust and engage openly, enhancing transparency. 

• Engage delivery partners to provide professional services relating to the build, including construction, engineering and planning expertise. However, delivery partners should be required to put a component of their fees at risk aligned to the achievement of measurable project outcomes and therefore be incentivised to meet or exceed targets.

> Effective delivery monitoring and oversight and quick decision-making: Tracking project and programme management against time and budget is vital, but do not just report for the sake of it. Reports should be limited to delivery progress, risks and issues and essential financial information, to help focus senior management on the key decisions that have to be made. Delays in decision-making can lead to increased costs and put hard deadlines at risk.

> Adopt smart procurement and contracting techniques: Involve contractors early in the planning and design process, and use contracts that embed an ethos of collaborative working, risk-sharing and on-time delivery.

> Over-invest in risk management and build internal assurance into the delivery programme: Mega-
events are too important to fail, so investing in risk management and contingency planning is crucial. While central risk registers should be in place, risk management across the programme should not be centralised but rather should be delegated to where it is needed. It is also important to build internal assurance into delivery programmes – it should ease the burden on the team, protect the programme and help build confidence.

Recipe for success

PwC’s examination of major events indicates that too few projects effectively integrate all these elements. Only by adeptly blending these crucial ingredients can Saudi Arabia craft a recipe for unparalleled project success. 

Through strategic foresight, rigorous planning and seamless coordination, the kingdom can ensure that its mega-events leave a lasting legacy of excellence.

Main image: View of the entrance gate of the Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 site 

A MEED Subscription...

Subscribe or upgrade your current package to support your strategic planning with the MENA region’s best source of business information. Proceed to our online shop below to find out more about the features in each package.