John Travolta wows fans in Riyadh

US actor John Travolta attends a panel discussion at the Apex Convention Center in Riyadh on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 16 December 2017

John Travolta wows fans in Riyadh

RIYADH: Hollywood superstar John Travolta, best known for his roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” was extended a very warm welcome in Riyadh on Friday as he made his first-ever appearance in the Kingdom to discuss his career and Hollywood.
The actor, 63, discussed his journey to fame during his talk at the Apex Convention Center.
He responded to questions from the audience on various aspects of his career. Organizers told Arab News that the free event was full to capacity with 2,000 people.
Yasser Mohammad, a student at King Saud University (KSU), told Arab News: “It’s absolutely wonderful to see Travolta here. He has come all the way to Riyadh. Thank you GEA (the General Authority for Entertainment) for this big event.”
Abdurrahman Al-Dayl, another KSU student at the event, told Arab News: “The GEA is doing tremendous work. It’s good to see it hosting successful local and international events, transforming the entertainment landscape in the Kingdom in such a short time.”
Saleh Abdul Wahed, a data analyst, said more Hollywood celebrities should be invited to the Kingdom. 
Commenting on the reopening of cinemas from next year, he told Arab News: “It’s a welcome decision by the government.” 
Praising the GEA’s efforts, Ibrahim Basha, a Saudi social media influencer who filmed Travolta’s arrival on Snapchat, said: “Can you imagine he’s come all the way to Riyadh in his private plane?” 
Faris Al-Shammari tweeted that Travolta is “the highest-paid actor in the world, no one can compete with him.” 
Abdal Otaibi tweeted: “It’s possible that he’s here to talk about cinema and how Saudi could benefit from cinemas now.” 
Many used the hashtag #John_Travolta_in_Riyadh to mention their favorite Travolta films. Malak picked “The General’s Daughter,” tweeting: “It’s one of his best films. Still lives in my memory and there’s no other film that portrays betrayal in relationships and its effects on a person like it.” 
Travolta’s stay in Riyadh included visiting tourist, cultural and entertainment locations.

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 16 December 2018

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”