Complex Made Simple

Can Saudi’s mega events help loosen ultra-conservatism stigma?

Saudi is opening its borders to visitors, tourists, and businesses wishing to explore the mega-events it is hosting. This requires Saudi to loosen up even more on its conservative views

Saudi has announced plans to convert an oil rig into a 150,000 sqm "extreme park" and resort Women at the Saudi F1 event cannot have excessive makeup or wear clothing which rests above the knee In just four years, the participation of women in the Saudi labor force has almost doubled to 33%

Saudi is letting anyone and everyone in the world know that its borders are open to visitors, tourists, and businesses wishing to explore the mega-events it is hosting, in hopes of attracting revenue streams and bolstering employment in the private sector.   

And this requires Saudi to loosen up even more on its conservative views, which it already has when it comes to sports and entertainment venues, music concerts, women driving, and more.

The Rig: oil themed extreme park

Saudi Arabia is to launch an enormous oil-themed tourist attraction, according to CNN.

Saudi has announced plans to convert an oil rig into a 150,000 sqm “extreme park” and resort located in the Arabian Gulf, but a completion date for the venture has not been stipulated.

The Rig Saudi
Image source: CNN

Funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), The Rig, as it is named, will have 3 hotels and 11 restaurants spread over a number of connected platforms, as well as roller coaster rides and adrenaline-rush activities like bungee jumping and skydiving, and aquatic sporting experiences.

Saudi Vision 2030’s strategy aims to position the country as a top international tourism destination with the likes of Dubai and to diversify its economy.

News of The Rig project comes just months after plans for Six Flags Qiddiya were announced, and which will be home to the world’s fastest roller coaster when it launches in 2023.

The Rig- Saudi
Image source: CNN

The aquatic nature of The Rig means that bathing suits, shorts, and other attires associated with water activities will be required.

Will Saudi allow for this? It may be that Saudi already has at Pure Beach in King Abdullah Economic City, but the country is perplexingly having trouble adjusting to the cultural realities involved with hosting big events.

The F1 controversy

Scheduled to take place on December 5, Formula 1 will head to Jeddah in what would have been the first-ever F1 event held in Saudi.

But the race is now shrouded in controversy with sport’s governing body having been issued with a list of what is acceptable attire and what isn’t.

F1 race Saudi
Image source: Marca.com

Saudi put some rules as to what women and men can and cannot wear at the event. 

Women at the event cannot have excessive makeup or wear transparent clothing, or any clothing which rests above the knee, and so no miniskirts, in addition to no backless dresses, nothing which shows straps, no tight clothing, and certainly no bikinis.

Men, on the other hand, cannot wear shorts, tank tops, and tight pants and this includes spectators, drivers, and their teams, such as pit crews and engineers working on the track or in garages.

Apart from the restrictive dress code, people at the event should refrain from showing affection in public or using profane language, rules that apply throughout the kingdom.

F1 race Saudi
Image source: Marca.com

The announcement of the restrictive measures comes after news emerged that a new beach had opened in Jeddah where families could attend and mix freely.

Men there can be admitted for 400 riyals ($108), as per the Pure Beach site. Families pay anywhere from 200 riyals to 250 riyals (weekends) and swimming for women is strictly prohibited in Thobes and Abayas. No other sire information is given on proper attire for both men and women.

Pure Beach is at King Abdullah Economic City, about 125 kms north of Jeddah’s city center.

Private sector employment

In just four years, the participation of women in the Saudi labor force has almost doubled to 33% as many social restrictions on women have eased, including allowing them to drive while encouraging them to work.

Cinzia Bianco, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said tackling women’s employment was vital to reducing the overall rate of joblessness, as Prince Mohammed targets cutting unemployment to 7% by 2030.

Saudi unemployment fell from 15.4% last year to 11.3% in the second quarter of this year, its lowest level in a decade, according to the state’s General Authority for Statistics.

Foreigners still account for about 77% of private-sector jobs. In retail, Saudis still only represent 28% of the total workforce of 640,000.

But with Saudis working in shops and hotels, on supermarket tills, in cafés, and as Uber drivers, attitudes are changing in a nation where half the population is aged under 25.

Tourist and investment inflows can only grow the private sector and with it employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.