Wearing blue-tinted rock star sunglasses, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, a hugely successful investor and member of the Saudi Royal family, swooped through Costa Rica early this week with a promise to build more hotels on the PapagayoGulf in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
“No doubt that the good policies of this President has put Costa Rica on the radar screen for investors,”Alwaleed said at a press conference in the Casa Presidencial Monday with President Oscar Arias and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias. “The fact that Costa Rica has tranquility, stability and a good political system with democracy… gives us confidence in this country.”
Alwaleed, the grandson of the founding king of Saudi Arabia, is the 13th richest man in the world at 52 years old, according to Forbes magazine. He is a major stakeholder in the upscale hotel chain Four Seasons, which has a location in Papagayo, and in the international financial conglomerate Citigroup, which is buying Grupo Financiero Uno, the largest credit card issuer in Central America, as well as several dozen Grupo Cuscatlán subsidiaries.
Alwaleed says he is now “in discussions with developers” to build five or six more hotels as part of the Fairmont and Raffles hotel chains. He declined to elaborate.
The prince landed in Liberia, Guanacaste, last Saturday evening and stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel on Papagayo, which was closed to other guests. According to reports by the daily La Nación, he arrived on an enormous $260 million Boeing 747 accompanied by a 48-member entourage and 245 pieces of luggage.
Immigration officials boarded the plane to process paperwork required for entry.
Alwaleed spoke with President Arias on Monday afternoon in Arias’ office at the Casa Presidencial, in the first meeting between the two leaders. Arias had planned to host Alwaleed at his home in Rohrmoser, San José, but changed the location to pay more respect to the prince. “The Casa Presidencial has a more formal environment,” said Casa Presidencial spokesman Esteban Arrieta.
At the press conference Monday, the prince, clad in khakis and a blue-checked shirt opened at the neck, struck a contrast with the two Arias brothers in their ties and dark suits.
Alwaleed did not grant any press interviews during this visit, his first to Costa Rica.
Thomas Lippman, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., said he was not surprised at Alwaleed’s plans to invest in Costa Rica.
“He is a very aggressive investor, a very smart man, very well respected,” Lippman said. “It’s not unusual for him to take on new tasks…Costa Rica is a stable country with a large tourism industry, so why not?”
The multimillionaire prince has donated widely to charity, including museums, scholarships and universities, according to press reports. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected a $10 million donation for disaster relief from Alwaleed after the prince suggested that U.S. policies in the Middle East had contributed to the attacks.
Alwaleed visited the Dominican Republic and Panama before arriving in Costa Rica, and Tuesday left for Guatemala, according to La Nación.
“The objective (of the trip) is to look out for potential opportunities, specifically in the tourism industry,” Alwaleed said. “Costa Rica has lead the way for our coming into this Central American region.”
Alwaleed is one of a handful of foreign multimillionaires looking to invest in Costa Rica.
At a press conference with President Arias earlier this month, American Online (AOL) co-founder Steve Case said he plans to build an $800 million luxury resort complex on Cacique Point, between Cocos and Hermosa beaches, in Guanacaste (TT, Aug. 10).
Mexican giant Telmex, owned by magnate Carlos Slim (the richest man in Latin America and third richest in the world, according to Forbes), has registered brands with Costa Rica’s National Registry in anticipation of a possible market opening (TT, Feb. 3, 2006). If voters approve the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in an Oct. 7 referendum, Costa Rica would be required to open its state-run telecommunications monopoly to private competition.