For those who've been living under a rock, or simply have other things on their mind – Mariah Carey and DJ Tiesto are performing in Saudi Arabia today, January 31, 2019.
How did things get here?
As all good things do, it started with a great idea – "Vision 2030". The realization that oil resources will be less significant in a decade led Saudi Arabia down a path of change. In order to become a global investment powerhouse, the kingdom decided to focus on diversifying its revenues and economic activity.
As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia launched the "Quality if Life Program 2020" aimed at improving the lifestyle of its citizens and residents. The plan is to move away from government-dependent programs and open up to public-private partnerships as well as privatizations of government-run companies in order to increase Saudi participation in entertainment, sports, as well as arts and cultural activities.
To add a sense of perspective, total investment in sectors related to the Quality of Life initiative are expected to reach $34.6 billion, with Saudi Arabia planning to spend close to $13.3 billion. The initiative is also projected to create 300,000 jobs.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ibrahim Al-Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) noted the importance of tapping into the tourism sector. In a single year, he said, the kingdom created 20,000 jobs, sprouted 500 entertainment companies and conducted 3,200 events with more than 19 million visitors.
Qiddiya – a world of entertainment
One of the most talked about mega-entertainments projects is Qiddiya. It takes the Quality of Life initiative up a notch with its vision of becoming the first-of-its-kind 24-hour resort.
Qiddiya plans to have more than 300 recreational and educational features including:
- amusement parks,
- toy cities,
- theme parks,
- safari and nature experiences,
- water parks,
- world-class sports facilities,
- sports training academies,
- adrenaline-packed on-road and off-road motor sports,
- sky sports, and
- arts and cultural exhibitions and activities, among others.
The concentration on improving the quality of life for Saudi nationals is emphasized in the fact that two-thirds of the citizens are under the age of 35. The Qiddiya project intends to curtail the $30 billion that Saudi nationals spend abroad in tourism.
The project will invest up to $8 billion in infrastructure costs for the 334 square kilometer one-stop entertainment destination. It is also expected to create 57,000 jobs by 2030 – a positive sign for both nationals and expats. Phase one of the project will be ready in 2022.
Saudi Arabia heads to the movies
The numbers speak volumes. Within 12 months of the 35-year cinema ban being lifted, Saudi Arabia has witnessed 59,000 people at the box office per month. The mixture of Arabic, Indian and Western blockbuster movies have been well-accepted, with majority of the shows sold-out. Recent data released by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) states that 77 percent of the crowd at the movies are families. UAE's Vox Cinemas, which has 35 locations with 345 screens, is the fastest-growing movie operator in Saudi Arabia.
By 2030, Saudi Arabia intends to have 350 theaters with 2,500 screens, which the country believes will create 30,000 jobs and add $24 billion to the economy.
Live music and sports – an image of fun
When word got out that Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ended a ban on women's driving and eased gender segregation rules, it attracted a host of global attention. Despite mixed reactions across the globe over Saudi Arabia's human rights history, the kingdom is now attempting to build an image of tolerance and fun.
International entertainment stars have lent support to this notion, with music concerts by The Black Eyes Peas, DJ David Guetta and Enrique Iglesias at the electric racing Formula-E event in December 2018.
The Saudi International golf tournament, the first foray by the European Tour into the kingdom, is also making waves with a purse of $3.5 million. Not only are music celebrities Mariah Carey and DJ Tiesto welcomed to the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), but the 18-hole championship golf course at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club will also host four of the Top 5 golfers in the world including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Patrick Reed.
Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority (GEA), headed by Chairman Turki Al-Sheikh, plans to reform the entertainment industry. After establishing an agreement with Cirque du Soleil, the GEA is also planning magic shows, theatrical events and more. Madam Tussauds is expected to add two locations in the kingdom. Potential agreements to bring the NBA championship, musicians such as Jay-Z, and sports stars such as Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham to Saudi Arabia are being discussed.
The country also announced plans to have a Spanish-style running of the bulls! What's next? We'll have to wait and see!