Through Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has ambitions to become one of the best places to live and visit in the world. Significant investments in entertainment and culture are helping to make that aspiration a reality.
Saudi Arabian society is changing rapidly. Wherever you look, there is evidence of efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and improve the quality of life of the Kingdom’s citizens.
From the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, boxing matches, and concerts, to world-class tourist destinations, visitors and residents have been witnessing the emergence of a new cultural center.
One of the driving forces behind the shift is the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which was established by the government in 2016 to help drive Vision 2030, an ambitious roadmap to reimagine Saudi Arabia’s society and economy.
One of the first initiatives that the GEA launched was Riyadh Season. This event, usually five months long, showcases modern Saudi Arabia through a diversity of entertainment programs, bringing together gastronomy, sport, theatre and art in the Kingdom’s capital.
Riyadh Season, and similar initiatives, are perhaps the most visual representation of a key pillar of Vision 2030 – the Quality of Life Program. The Quality of Life program represents a step-change in a country which, until relatively recently, did not permit film screenings or music in public. The hope is that, by creating an ecosystem which nurtures domestic talent, as well as prioritising improvements in the Kingdom’s physical infrastructure, the Quality of Life program will unlock opportunities for citizens, residents, and investors alike.
These efforts appear to be having the desired effect; since the UN published its 2016 World Happiness Report, Saudi Arabia has risen nine places from 34th to 25th. That places the country higher than Spain (29th), Italy (31st), and Japan (54th).
Engaging the private sector is a key means by which the government wants to drive progress. Saudi business leaders like Meshaal Bin Omairh, Group CEO of Al Othaim Investment Co., are playing an important role in improving the quality of life in the Kingdom. A market leader in the construction, management and operation of large shopping malls in the Kingdom, with fifty million annual visitors to its complexes, Al Othaim Investment Co. is aiming to create unique, mixed-use destinations that incorporate residential properties, restaurants, tourist attractions, and cinemas.
“Saudi Arabia is leading the way for ambitious and exciting entertainment projects both regionally and internationally,” says Bin Omairh, “and Al Othaim Investment Co. is determined to deliver innovative retail experiences for residents and visitors alike.”
The company has been successful in Saudi Arabia in large part thanks to the leadership and ideas of Sheikh Abdullah Al Othaim, who founded the company. Long recognised as one of the Arab World’s most successful businesspeople, Sheikh Abdullah was a pioneer of the retail and entertainment industry in the Kingdom – a mission which continues via the company which bears his name.
According to Arab News, the Saudi domestic retail industry will be worth $119 billion by 2023, and it is Saudi consumers who are driving the diversification of retail. In particular, young people are helping to develop the entertainment and cultural offering in the Kingdom. This is no surprise, given two-thirds of the Saudi population is under the age of 35 and keen to realise the potential of their country.
What does the future hold?
Saudi Arabia has already become a shooting location for Hollywood blockbusters, with AlUla, the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, serving as a key location for Gerard Butler action film, Kandahar.
Similarly, the coastal city of Jeddah is home to the Red Sea Film Festival, Saudi Arabia’s first international film festival, originally launched in 2019. Chaired by Prince Badr Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture, the event will be returning later this year running from 1 – 10 December 2022 in the city’s historic old town. Last year, the festival featured 138 films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages, 27 of which hail from the Kingdom – a visual representation of the cultural renaissance taking place there.
The recent pace of change in Saudi Arabia is noticeable. It was only in 2018 that the Kingdom hosted its first modern film screening. The content of choice, Marvel’s Black Panther, a film about a young leader opening his country to the world.
Looking to the future, Saudi Arabia is pushing to continue its innovation and become a regional and international leader in several areas. Private enterprise, led by Vision 2030 initiatives like the Quality of Life Program, will play an essential role in demonstrating what the Kingdom has to offer.
Still, it is the citizens and residents who call Saudi Arabia home who have the most to gain. It is their story, and the story of a reimagined Saudi Arabia, which holds the greatest promise.