Entertainment: The future of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy

13 January 2020
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Updated 14 January 2020

Entertainment: The future of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy

The Quality of Life Program (QLP), a major component of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, aims to improve people’s lifestyles by developing an ecosystem to support and create new options that boost citizens’ and residents’ participation in cultural, environmental and sports activities.
The QLP aims to create jobs, diversify economic activity, and raise the status of Saudi cities so that they rank among the best in the world. One of the program’s main objectives is to develop and diversify entertainment opportunities, including electronic games facilities, family entertainment centers, water parks, cinemas, theme parks, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, public parks, theaters and an opera house.
To support the QLP, the government created the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) in 2016 for the purpose of organizing and developing the entertainment sector and support its infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
With the support and cooperation of various government sectors and private entities, the GEA has managed to improve quality of life in the Kingdom. It has also managed, in a very short time, to diversify and enrich entertainment experiences nationwide.
The great success of Riyadh Season is a good example of the GEA’s outstanding ability to enhance the entertainment industry in the Kingdom, as evidenced by the 10.3 million people who visited the festival. Riyadh Season was able to generate more than SR1 billion ($267 million) for the GEA, and indirect revenues via the Saudi payments system Mada exceeded SR4 billion during the official period of the festival (Oct. 15 to Dec.15, 2019).
Riyadh Season was not only successful in attracting visitors to the capital, but also in creating 34,700 direct jobs and 17,300 indirect (seasonal and volunteer) jobs for Saudi men and women. Riyadh Season’s success is expected to be replicated in the series of current and upcoming festivals in the Kingdom.
I believe that Saudi Arabia can easily establish a strong entertainment industry that can support and diversify the economy, especially as the government is striving to reduce dependence on oil. A strong entertainment industry in the Kingdom will be able to support the growth of the gross domestic product, improve local content, support small and medium-sized enterprises, increase foreign direct investment and create jobs.

Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist and financial analyst.