Saudi malls gearing up for a new future with big screens and entertainment

Saudis are rejoicing the government’s decision to allowing opening cinemas across the Kingdom. Earlier this year, musical concerts were allowed in the Kingdom to boost entertainment activities. In this file photo dated Dec. 3 Saudis watch composer Yanni perform at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh. (Reuters)
Updated 13 December 2017

Saudi malls gearing up for a new future with big screens and entertainment

JEDDAH: Malls in Saudi Arabia are getting ready to take advantage of the government’s decision allowing them to open cinemas. Mall operators across the Kingdom say they are locating space for theaters and exploiting empty units.
Major work is expected in the next seven months in the preparation of malls. Mohammed Rashid Aba Al-Khiel, head of the digital sector and marketing at the Arab Centers, the largest developer, owner and operator of commercial centers in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that the decision had been expected since the end of 2016.
“The decision comes as part of the package of economic entertainment projects to ensure that the money, or part of it, remains at home in the local content,” he said. Aba Al-Khiel added that the plans extended to cafes, entertainment and sales.
“Cinema adds to the experience of the beneficiary, especially with high temperatures and the dearth of (entertainment) options for Saudi families, which are limited to malls...”
He added: “If the operators can run movie theaters effectively, it is possible to keep pace with similar experiences in neighboring countries. We lack the operational experience in dealing with the film industry and its economic benefit. We suffer from a lack of experience in this field. Global experience should be considered.”
Malls have multiple options to take advantage of the decision, depending on the sizes and allocations of screens, diversity of the target segments and the value of the content, he explained.
The chairman of the commercial centers’ committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), Mohammed Alawi, told Arab News that a large group of malls had considered this decision and some included its engineering plans. Some malls have included it as their first choice to expand their investment and development plans.
Alawi said: “Some of these malls are targeting areas that were vacant and will begin to move directly to reformulate these sites and arrange them economically so that they can be configured.
“After the approval, global operators from all over the world will come to create an integrated cinema style according to the latest standards. This will encourage investors to move and find financial flows in the markets.”
Alawi expects that all malls in Saudi Arabia will work to keep up with the decision in the next seven months. “Malls that do not have cinema-equipped buildings will move and provide space even if they exploit some economically inefficient locations.”
Alawi, who previously ran the Red Sea Mall, said: “The Red Sea Mall, for example, would provide at least 12 cinema screens, with at least 300 seats each, currently being built.”
He explained that the flow of capital abroad throughout the year was not justified, and greatly hurt the Saudi economy. Alwai said that 6.5 million cinema tickets are booked annually online in Bahrain, of which 5 million are from Saudi Arabia.
“SR80 billion ($21.3 billion) is spent annually outside the country. The Vision (2030) aims to keep 50 percent of them domestically. The cinema decision can revive transport, subsistence, contracting companies and jobs for Saudis.”
Ryan Kadouri, director of the Red Sea Mall, told Arab News that the decision is great and will have a positive impact on the retail sector, will create a huge economic momentum in doubling the number of visitors to malls and will revive markets after the recession experienced in the past two years.
“It will provide support to the local market and create great job opportunities for Saudis. It will help increase the number of visitors to the malls.”
He said the volume of visitors accustomed to traveling abroad is expected to reach 21 million to the Red Sea Mall in 2018 from 18 million visitors in 2017.
Kadouri said: “Cinema projects are expected to take time because they are linked to specialized international companies, and all are waiting for the official mechanisms. We are in the process of preparation. The market will recover significantly.”
He pointed out that commercial malls are looking for open spaces and to keep pace with the variables of the market.
“The right operator should be chosen as well as the importance of quality, transfer of expertise and the use of modern technologies … and the allocation of showrooms for different segments of society, and so on.”


Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province feels very American, says US consul general

US Consul General Rachna Korhonen finds the diwaniya and majlis culture of the Eastern Province fascinating. (Supplied)
Updated 25 February 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province feels very American, says US consul general

  • Saudi hospitality wins the heart of diplomat who considers Kingdom one of her favorite destinations

DAMMAM: The US consul general in Dhahran, Rachna Korhonen, lists the Kingdom as one of her favorite places and is in love with the local culture and traditions.

Working in the Kingdom since 2017, she has been impressed by the tremendous changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030.
Arab News caught up with Korhonen to discuss all things American and Saudi.
“As US Ambassador Abizaid has said, the US-Saudi partnership is more vital than ever, particularly as we confront regional security challenges and work hand-in-hand to achieve shared economic and political objectives.”
This relationship is strong and multifaceted, she said, adding: “We work together every day to promote prosperity and economic development, protect the security of our two countries, and build the people-to-people ties that keep our relationship strong.”
She said that a posting to Saudi Arabia was her first choice for an assignment.
“I did not know at the time that I would be the first woman to serve as the US consul general in Dhahran. I really wanted to learn about energy! I was pretty nervous and somewhat scared, but also excited and enthusiastic. I spent three years in Riyadh and some time in Kuwait and Iraq so I had a pretty good understanding of the region.”
Korhonen speaks highly of the Saudi hospitality and the way people welcomed her.
“I came (to the Kingdom) just before Eid Al-Adha. It is a tradition that the consul general makes Eid calls to visit prominent families. I was lucky enough to meet people from the very first moment I arrived. I have always made an effort to get to meet people at different occasions. Saudis have welcomed me into their homes, shared meals and traditions with me. I really have the best job in the best place at the best time,” she told Arab News.

Saudis have welcomed me into their homes, shared meals and traditions with me.

Rachna Korhonen, US consul general

Korhonen said she finds the diwaniya and majlis culture of the Eastern Province fascinating.
“I enjoy meeting new people and learning about what is happening in the Eastern Province. Diwaniyas are a great place to do that. I also love gahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates,” she said.
Korhonen said the Eastern Province feels very American to her. She thinks this is partly due to the close relationship enjoyed by the countries since the 1930s, which began with Aramco and also because thousands of Saudis from the Eastern Province have studied in the US.
Commenting on the social transformation in the Kingdom under Vision 2030, she said: “I still remember very well the first game I attended in Saudi Arabia. It was a very hot and humid day in August, but I wanted to be in attendance to show support for the Eastern Province teams. There was a big crowd and the energy in the stadium was amazing. At that game, I was the only woman in the family section. Now, it completely feels normal to see entire Saudi families in the stands. I could be anywhere in the world at a sporting event. It’s such a huge change.”
She told Arab News that “there have been no recent changes” in the US visa process, adding: “We have visa appointments most weeks from Sunday to Thursday. We encourage everyone interested in going to the US this summer to start thinking about applying now, since we expect demand will grow as we approach the summer season.
“We continue to look for ways to reduce the amount of time a person spends in our waiting room, the wait for visa appointments (especially for students), and the time it takes for someone to get their passport back with the visa.”
She said her favorite initiative that brings Saudis and Americans together is the International Leadership Program.
“The consulate also works with local Saudi partners to bring American athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists and other experts to the Eastern Province to exchange ideas and explore ways to collaborate. Our EducationUSA office helps Saudi students who are interested in studying in the US learn about US universities, the admission process and how to prepare for their educational experience,” the consul general said.