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Outlook 2022: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just beginning

RIYAD: For some three decades, entertainment venues, from cinemas to concert halls, have been locked down across Saudi Arabia, depriving citizens and visitors of outlets to enjoy cultural, sporting and artistic activities in public

This all started to change in 2016 with the creation of the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Kingdom’s broad social and economic reform agenda, Vision 2030.

Five years later, Saudi Arabia’s thirst for entertainment is evident. In just two months, up to 8 million people took part in Riyadh’s 2021 season, a cultural extravaganza unheard of just five years ago.

Boys wave national flags during celebrations in Riyadh marking Saudi Arabia’s national day on September 23, 2020 (AFP)

The General Entertainment Authority was established to help advance the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, enabling it to become a global leader in the creative, entertainment, tourism and entertainment industries. high technology.

Now, Saudi citizens and international visitors, regardless of their income level, can enjoy a plethora of entertainment options that were previously denied to them, improving their quality of life and the attractiveness of the Kingdom as a work and investment destination.

Entrepreneurs offer camel rides in AlUla. (An archive photo)

In just five years, GEA has issued 2,189 licenses and 1,809 permits allowing more than 2,500 companies to start local entertainment businesses. The sector has already generated more than $ 1 billion in profits and attracted more than 75 million visitors.

Although Saudi Arabia’s entertainment revolution suffered setbacks in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events suspended, venues closed and international travel banned for several months, the cultural calendar has come back in full force in 2021. Much is yet to come.

Saudi fans attack wrestling star at WWE event in Jeddah. (Provided)

For a whole generation of young Saudis, it will be another year of firsts.

Until the late 1980s, Saudi cities enjoyed a thriving art movement that offered the public a wide variety of entertainment options. However, that ended in the early 1990s.

Saudi fans attend the “MDL Beast Fest”, an electronic music festival, held in Banban, on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on December 19, 2019 (AFP file)

For a while, only two music festivals were held per year – one at the Muftaha theater in Abha and another at the summer concerts in Jeddah – until these were also shut down. The last concert opened in Riyadh took place in 1992 during the Al-Janadriyah festival.

QUICKFACTS

2016 Creation of the General Entertainment Authority.

2017 First public concerts in nearly three decades.

2018 The 35-year ban on public cinemas is finally lifted.

2018 First Diriyah E-Prize of the Kingdom.

2019 Launch of the Saudi Seasons initiative.

The silence was broken in March 2017 with the Kingdom’s first public concert in nearly three decades. Although attendance was limited to men only, tickets for the performance of Saudi performers Mohammed Abdu and Rashid Al-Majed sold out immediately.

Cairo Opera’s National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) performs at the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh on April 25, 2018 (AFP)

Later that year, Saudi Arabia hosted its first public performance by a female artist. Lebanese singer Heba Tawaji performed on stage at the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh to an all-female audience of 3,000.

In the same year, the Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. In a tweet ahead of his arrival in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We are going to experience history in the making and I wouldn’t miss it for the world! First stop in Jeddah! … Yanni.

Participants at work during the Formula E race in Diriyah, Riyadh. (AFP)

The following year saw the launch of the Ad Diriyah concerts, with several performances on the sidelines of the Kingdom’s biggest event – the Formula E race in Diriyah – including an unforgettable performance by French DJ David Guetta.

“This concert was magical. I loved every second, ”music fan Eithar Alshadukhi told Arab News at the time. “David Guetta’s songs are amazing, but when he created a special piece for Saudi Arabia it blew me away.”

Mariah Carey in concert in Jeddah in 2019 (File photo)

In 2019, American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey performed in Jeddah, making her the most prominent international artist to perform in the Kingdom since the relaxation of restrictions on entertainment.

In the same year, K-Pop boy group BTS became the first foreign artist to perform solo at a stadium in Saudi Arabia to an audience of over 60,000 at King Fahd International Stadium.

Music concerts have flourished in Saudi Arabia since 2016. (Provided)

Music concerts are not the only area of ​​entertainment that has flourished in Saudi Arabia since 2016. Intensely proud of its heritage and natural beauty, the Kingdom has invested heavily in promoting leisure and tourism activities in its coastal, mountainous and desert regions.

In the process, Saudi Arabia has broken several Guinness World Records, including a record in 2020 for the largest hot air balloon glow show over the ancient city of AlUla, with 100 balloons spread over 3 km of sky.

Hot air balloon festival in the ancient city of AlUla. (Provided)

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s 2021 season also received two Guinness World Record Certificates for “Avalanche”. With 24 lanes reaching a record height of over 22 meters, it has been recognized as both the tallest fun slide in the world and the one with the most lanes.

INNUMBERS

2,500 companies licensed by the General Entertainment Authority.

$ 1 billion in Saudi entertainment industry profits over the past 5 years.

75 million visitors to recent events and activities organized by Saudi Arabia.

Another area of ​​entertainment that has exploded over the past five years is the film industry. In 2018, the 35-year ban on public cinemas was finally lifted, spurring the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi” – the first nationally owned and operated cinema in Saudi Arabia – first in Jeddah then throughout the Kingdom.

The lifting in 2018 of a 35-year ban on public cinemas stimulated the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi”. (Provided)

In 2019, the Red Sea International Film Festival was launched, bringing together Saudi and international filmmakers, actors and industry professionals to celebrate cinema and the world’s top on-screen talent.

The ambitious mandate of the festival is to develop and promote the film industry in Saudi Arabia, to uncover raw regional talent and to support a new wave of cinema around the world.

The opening up of the Kingdom’s entertainment industry spurred interest in film and acting. (File photo)

To preserve and promote Saudi Arabia’s rich and unique culture, while boosting the domestic and international tourism market, the Saudi Commission on Tourism and National Heritage launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 with great success.

Festivals were held in Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province, Taif, AlUla, Ad Diriyah and elsewhere, celebrating the diversity of the Kingdom’s local crafts and traditions, while creating jobs for young Saudis. .

Hundreds of beach resorts have sprung up across Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom opened up its tourism industry a few years ago. (SPA)

Tourism is an area Saudi Arabia is particularly keen to promote with the launch of its Saudi e-visa in 2019. The Kingdom expects to have welcomed 100 million tourists by 2030, drawn by a mix of news luxury seaside resorts on its coastline, educational outings among its spectacular ancient ruins and adventure activities in its vast deserts and lush mountains.

So much has already been accomplished in the Kingdom’s leisure and entertainment industries since the reforms began just five years ago. No doubt 2022 will be another year of firsts on the road to 2030.