Saudi Arabia’s wellness push delivers a healthy economic dividend
The way we work is constantly changing. As business demands continue to evolve in the digital age, so do the needs of employees. According to a recent report by the WELL Institute, people spend more than 90 percent of their waking hours indoors. And while this can most certainly present challenges with regards to physical fitness, the potential effects on mental health should not be ignored. One nation that has recognized the importance of having a country-wide wellness agenda is Saudi Arabia.
As a nation that is rapidly undergoing transformations with the aim of becoming a world-class business hub, the wellbeing of the employees who are spearheading this charge is of utmost importance. In line with this continuing transition into a diversified, flexible and highly competitive knowledge-based economy, there is also an increasing importance being placed on ensuring the collective health of Saudi Arabia’s residents. In past decades, wellness has been viewed at a global scale as a beneficial “add-on” provided by well-meaning employers, while now, governments are increasingly acknowledging the pivotal role that wellness plays in continued economic development. Saudi Arabia, a country in transition, has recognized the importance of a healthy workforce, thus placing it as a central pillar in its ambitious Vision 2030.
There is no doubt that the Saudi Government will continue to create new ways to grow its wellbeing agenda with a strong infrastructure at its core and the policies and investment to support it.
Gabriella De La Torre
The recent launch of key strategic projects in Riyadh, for example, including King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art reflect this nationwide focus on wellness. In addition to encouraging exercise, creativity and mental wellbeing, such projects also serve another purpose. Just as the recent emphasis on entertainment demonstrated the Kingdom’s objectives to transform into a regional tourism and leisure hub, so, too, does the new focus on wellness underline the Kingdom’s wider goals.
Vision 2030 aims to transform Saudi Arabia’s cities into modern metropolizes that are desirable places to visit, in addition to being extremely attractive hubs in which to live, work and play. The “Quality of Life Program” plays an integral role in the realization of this vision. This program aims to ensure that residents enjoy the highest possible quality of life, through improving infrastructure to increase participation in cultural, entertainment and sports activities. In addition to stimulating economic activity through job creation, foreign investment and diversification, the program also aims to position Saudi cities as among the best cities in the world.
Developing the infrastructure to reach such a goal certainly requires planning, but can be achieved. Ensuring a greater contribution to the arts and culture internationally, while increasing participation in sports is perhaps more complex and requires a more nuanced approach. Health care and education feature prominently in the Quality of Life Program, which is another testament to the government’s commitment to transforming society holistically.
From a real estate perspective, the Kingdom’s focus on wellness, entertainment and leisure presents bountiful opportunities. The hospitality sector in key cities is already experiencing growth, while the growth of the entertainment industry alone aims to generate SR16.5 billion ($4.4 billion) in revenue and create 70,000 jobs by 2030. The potential for new leisure concepts, unique hotel offerings and large-scale real estate developments are unlimited. And as the country continues to introduce new legislation, such as those that lifted the ban of cinemas and introduced new tourist visas, the appetite to visit the country is expected to increase. Due to continued development and investment, new areas across major cities in the Kingdom will benefit from a spill-over and elevating effect.
Wellness is just one of many sectors in which the Saudi Government is investing. And while, traditionally, this area was one frequently considered as a social initiative, the Kingdom has been extremely prudent in understanding how wellness is intrinsically linked to business performance and ultimately economic growth. As Saudi Arabia continues to transform, so also will the needs of the employees who are driving the country’s growth. Given the strong vision supporting wider economic development in the Kingdom, there is no doubt that the Saudi Government will continue to create new ways to grow its wellbeing agenda with a strong infrastructure at its core and the policies and investment to support it.
• Gabriella De La Torre is an associate director – strategic advisory at CBRE MENAT.