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Saudi Vision 2030: Kingdom’s rapid transition as a global entertainment hub

The entertainment industry is receiving special support from the Saudi government, which aims to create over 100,000 jobs and contribute over USD 23 billion

As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia envisions itself to be a truly diverse economy by 2030, it is currently getting a lot of investments in its non-oil sectors. Apart from real estate and technology, another sector which is benefiting from it is the entertainment industry.

The Saudi Central Bank’s July data showed a USD 17.7 billion surplus in the Kingdom’s current account balance during the first quarter of 2023, clearly demonstrating the results of these efforts. With USD 9.8 billion in sales in the first quarter compared to USD 3 billion in the same period in 2022, this indicates a notable increase in revenue.

The managing director of the international creative firm Imagination Middle East, Adel Noueihed, emphasised that, globally, entertainment makes up 4% of GDP while tourism makes up 7%.

“KSA should aim to achieve this when opening up these sectors in terms of economic diversification,” he told the Arab News.

“And these numbers make sense if you’re trying to diversify away from hydrocarbons, as these two sectors would be the government’s two most obvious avenues for diversification,” Noueihed continued.

Imagination Middle East’s strategy head, Christophe Castaner, reiterated this idea by emphasising Saudi Arabia’s unrealised experiential potential.

The strategy head stated that, in terms of the complexities needed in planning, investment, creative thinking, and creativity necessary in the initiatives, he has never seen such a multi-layered approach to growing the experience economy at the regional level.

Promoting Expansion

The entertainment industry is receiving special support from the Kingdom’s government, which aims to create over 100,000 jobs and contribute over USD 23 billion, or 3% of GDP, by 2030. Additionally, it has a USD 64 billion investment plan to support the industry’s expansion.

Noueihed continued, “The entertainment industry is growing all over the world. I believe that when people in some regions of the world get more affluent, they have more time and disposable income, and they want to spend it on various forms of cultural endeavours.”

“There are two niches of entertainment: internal and international. From an underground or in-home perspective, I believe Saudi Arabia has great domestic entertainment hubs,” he clarified further.

However, Castagnera noted that significant expenditures have been made to attract different levels of entertainment ventures with the ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ programme.

“Qiddiya and Seven being the two main ones” were the two he mentioned as being particularly notable and the main forces behind this transition.

Film commissions, film sets, and gaming are all present in the Kingdom’s commercial sector and are important sources of funding for the entertainment sector.

The General Entertainment Authority chief says Saudi Arabia is becoming a regional entertainment hotspot, attracting 120 million visitors to events in the last four years.

Turki Al-Sheikh said Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s support for this crucial industry earned GEA multiple Guinness World Records awards.

He added that this created many entertainment industry jobs in the Kingdom.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, 11,136 entertainment and supporting activity permits were given after the new licensing system was implemented in August 2019.

Saudi Arabia introduced an online entertainment licence application process to simplify the process.

According to GEA chief operations officer Sultan Al-Fakeer, “The goal of offering this range of licences is to encourage investment in the entertainment sector, which is a vital and promising sector.”

The permits are part of the Kingdom’s efforts to enhance economic activity and entertainment industry investment to meet Vision 2030’s strategic goals.

Al-Sheikh said the authority also held the second International Qur’an and Adhan Competition, the world’s largest, at that time.

Over 50,000 contestants from 165 nationalities registered for the competition in January. This competition’s world record prize money is SR12 million (USD 3.19 million) from the GEA.

The chairman said 8,732 events, entertainment performances, and café and restaurant live performances occurred from 2019 to the first quarter of 2023. More than 1,381 concerts occurred on 76,000 event days.

He also noted that 42 cities and governorates had licenced 470 entertainment venues, on top of the 1,402 restaurants being licenced in 50 Saudi cities and governorates with at least 3,728 permits.

Additionally, 3,738 permits for support and leisure activities were issued, 82 plays with 350 staged performances were produced, and approximately 6,610 professional performers were allowed to participate in various events.

Economic Shockwaves

Saudi Entertainment Ventures, also known as Seven, is one noteworthy project. It recently revealed plans to build a USD 346 million theme park. Millions of Saudis will benefit from immersive experiences and family-friendly entertainment provided by this venture.

Seven’s project launch coincided with an exciting moment for Saudi Arabia, as the country’s economy expanded by 1.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, driven by a 5.5% increase in non-oil activity.

The Public Investment Fund’s fully-owned company Seven has started building its SR1.3 billion (USD 346.54 million) entertainment complex in Madinah.

The project is in line with the Kingdom’s plan and goal to enhance the quality of life for Saudi citizens, strengthen local economies, and increase tourism. It is being carried out in conjunction with BUJV, a joint venture between Al Bawani Co. and UrbaCon Trading & Contracting.

The launch of Seven’s project fits into a larger pattern in Saudi Arabia’s tourist and entertainment industries, which have been recently fuelling the country’s good economic growth.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected that Saudi Arabia’s non-oil GDP will grow from 3.9% in 2020 to a robust 4.3% in 2023.

Taking On Obstacles

Even though there are still difficulties, especially in creating jobs, there is a drive to find solutions.

For the youthful Saudi populace, of which two-thirds are under 30, it remains to be seen if the private sector will continue to grow steadily and whether jobs will be created for them over the next few years. This is also changing.

Noueihed remarked, “The challenges will take time, but the ambition is there. Importing intellectual property is a quick way to boost the local economy and even attract tourists and a lot of entertainment.”

Noueihed went on, “Over time, what will change is how local brands and flavours emerge in the Kingdom, fostering a regional artistic and cultural renaissance that will develop into a major global industry.”

“All they require to produce intriguing local intellectual property that is sophisticated and pertinent to the local market are the appropriate resources, exposure, and finance. That is also very crucial, in my opinion. And that will set Saudi Arabia apart from the rest of the GCC and the Arab world,” the official concluded.

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