Saudi Arabia eyes billions of dollars in entertainment investments

The kingdom aims to become among the top ten global entertainment destinations and in the top four in Asia.
Friday 25/01/2019
Promising sector. Saudis gather at a cinema theatre in Riyadh Park mall after its opening for the general public, last April. (AFP)
Promising sector. Saudis gather at a cinema theatre in Riyadh Park mall after its opening for the general public, last April. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia said it expected billions of dollars to be pumped into a nascent state-backed entertainment sector and is eyeing dozens of Western acts, including an exhibition NBA basketball game and a Spanish-style running of the bulls.

The kingdom is trying to shake off its ultra-conservative image to keep tourist dollars at home, lure foreign visitors, create jobs for young Saudis and improve the quality of life in a country where cinemas and public concerts were banned until recently.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz loosened social strictures, including ending a ban on women driving, curbing the powers of the religious police and easing gender segregation rules.

The government has put on Arab and Western performances, including a Black Eyed Peas concert in December, that were once unimaginable in a country where bearded religious police patrolled the streets with sticks to guard against public immorality, including singing and dancing.

At the January 22 announcement of the 2019 entertainment calendar, Turki al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), listed dozens of events the kingdom hopes to host this year, including auto races, magic shows and theatrical performances.

“I hope national companies, banks, businessmen, artists and all sectors put their hands together. There are golden opportunities,” he told an audience that included princes, ministers, Arab celebrities and Muslim clerics.

“This is a big door for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs and for tens of billions if not hundreds of billions” of riyals, he added.

Sheikh said the kingdom aimed to become among the top ten global entertainment destinations and in the top four in Asia but provided no timeline and few concrete figures for his targets.

Officials have previously said reforms aimed to capture up to one-quarter of the $20 billion spent overseas every year by Saudis seeking entertainment.

Last year, the GEA said infrastructure investments over the next decade would reach $64 billion that would contribute $4.8 billion to annual GDP and generate 224,000 jobs by 2030.

(Reuters)