Reinventing entertainment in Saudi Arabia

RetailME Bureau

More than 4.5 million Saudi nationals are travelling abroad annually for tourism. Their entertainment spending stands at approximately SAR80 billion ($21 billion) on movies and visits to amusement parks in the nearby tourist hubs of Dubai and Bahrain. The Government of Saudi Arabia seeks to retain this spend within the Kingdom by undertaking massive measures to revolutionise its entertainment offerings.

According to a report by Flanders Investment & Trade, the government, thus, plans an investment of SAR240 billion ($64 billion) to inject and reinvigorate the country’s entertainment and leisure industry, thereby boosting the broader economy.

According to Jadwa Investment, in 2016, Saudi Arabia spent around SAR100 billion ($27 billion) in tourism, out of which SAR31 billion ($8.2 billion), went to entertainment. It indicated the growing demand for tourism and entertainment by the population, estimated to reach around 40 million by 2030, with an annual growth rate of 2.5%. Despite the high local demand and consumer spending, the sector has not been a strong performer in the local economy. It is yet to offer sizeable growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), foreign investments and public-private partnership projects.

The report, seeking to remedy the situation, mentioned the government’s initiative announced in May 2018. It seeks to invest SAR130 billion ($35 billion) in culture and leisure by 2020 aimed at creating a true cultural community to enjoy theatres and cinemas. This movement has been translated in several mega projects such as 16 entertainment complexes, an aquatic centre and three other huge entertainment hubs. All are part of an offer to ensure that Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam become among the top 100 cities in the world for providing ‘Quality of Life’. It is a programme, which aims to promote sporting activities in society; achieve excellence in several sports regionally and globally. It further seeks to develop and diversify entertainment opportunities to meet the needs of the population and strengthen the Saudi contribution in both arts and culture.

The Quality of Life programme also targets the increase of the number of out-of-home entertainment venues from 154 to 260 by 2020 and aims to raise the available retail space in shopping malls from 1.6 to 2 sqft per capita.

The General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) has also indicated that the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia requires SAR267 billion ($71 billion) to build proper infrastructure for entertainment across the Kingdom. The entertainment sector is expected to attract investments worth SAR18 billion ($4.8 billion) annually. Moreover, GAE has recently signed several contracts with US-based entertainment companies such as AMC Theatres for cinemas. Also, Six Flags, National Geographic, Cirque du Soleil and IMG Artists, will operate amusement parks and live shows in many new projects.

Last year, a total of 27 events were executed by GAE in 17 cities across Saudi Arabia as part of the 87th National Day, observed on September 23. The activities included concerts, plays, displays, comedy, laser tag, air balloon, cultural and sports shows, as well as folk dances, which took place in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Ha’il, Tabuk and other cities. Besides, a big concert executed at Al Jawharah Stadium in Jeddah featured prominent Saudi and Gulf singers.

Importantly, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) expects 300 cinemas with more than 2,000 screens to open across Saudi Arabia by 2030 and forecasts the sector to be worth around SAR3.75 billion ($1 billion) over the next few years. The newly established Saudi Film Council (SFC), in conjunction with the General Culture Authority (GCA), hosted its pavilion at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. This exercise helped in gaining an understanding of audience preferences and industry figures from around the world. Additionally, Saudi Arabia also showcased a series of short films from local filmmakers as part of the festival’s Short Film Corner event.