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Saudi’s entertainment sector takes a front-row seat with new visa

Saudi Arabia and entertainment are not two words you would have expected to see in one sentence a few years ago. The Kingdom, known for its conservative values, has shied away from splurging on the entertainment sector. It was only this year that the Gulf nation finally lifted its ban on movie theaters and the film industry in general.

Now, the General Sports Authority (GSA) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced the creation of an entirely new visitor visa, one that hopes to expedite the application process for fans of live sport, music and culture coming to visit.

The new visa process platform known as ‘Sharek’ will be introduced for the inaugural Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix, the opening race to the 2018/19 ABB FIA Formula E Championship being staged at a UNESCO heritage site on the outskirts of Riyadh on 15th December 2018.

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Formula E comes to the Kingdom

Image: GSA

The ancient historical city of Diriyah will make history again by hosting the biggest festival of racing, live music and entertainment ever witnessed in the country, including thrilling action on the track and global superstars performing on stage over three days.

Today’s announcement at the venue, attended by Formula E stars including Felipe Massa, Susie Wolff and André Lotterer saw the new ‘Sharek’ platform launched as part of the country’s Vision 2030 plan. Organizers hope that a large number of international fans will access the online visa process and travel to the country to witness the debut of Formula E in the Middle East.

In an event marked by many firsts, the Ad Diriyah E Prix will be the first-time foreign travelers can access Saudi Arabia in such a fast and uncomplicated process as it opens its doors to sports tourism.

Saudi has been very active in recent months in elevating the entertainment sector to a much greater role, and this is one of many steps to diversify the country’s economy.

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An emphasis on entertainment

Saudi is not sparing any expense in the expansion of its entertainment sector.

The General Entertainment Authority (GEA) chief, Ahmad Al-Khatib, told reporters in February that the kingdom was to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector over the coming decade.

“God willing, you will see a real change by 2020,” he said, adding that more than 5,000 events were planned for the coming year, the Associate Press reported.

According to the Saudi Gazette, Al-Khatib has said that “more than 80% of the authority’s 5,500 activities in 2018 will focus on families and youth with emphasis also on other segments of society.”

The newspaper continued: “In an interview earlier, he said the authority organized 2,200 activities in 2017 in various parts of the country. He also said that around 500 entertainment companies were established in 2017, creating 22,000 job opportunities, noting that the authority focuses now on building and bolstering the entertainment infrastructure such as large parks and amusement cities.”

“Now the Kingdom is lightening up with comic book festivals, dance performances, concerts and monster truck rallies,” the New York Times reported earlier this year.

Last year, Greek musician Yanni held a concert in the country, and so did rapper Nelly. Pro-wrestling brand WWE made its way to the country in April.

These changes have also been accompanied by a turn in direction from the rules and laws in place. On June 24th, women were finally allowed to drive, signaling a major development that goes beyond the entertainment sector.

At the start of the year, women were gradually being allowed to attend sports matches.

All of these reforms have been part of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil.

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