Whoever looks at things with a telescope will see what the naked eye cannot. I have spent nearly 20 years in the US and have not heard of anyone from there going to my homeland as a tourist, until changes were made in the Kingdom’s visa system that allow visiting the country for tourism purposes.
Today, when I go out to restaurants with my children and see people watching a sports event or concert taking place in Saudi Arabia and talking about entertainment events there with admiration, I wonder what the difference is from the past. Why didn’t I see this simple social interaction from people 20 years ago?
Coverage of Saudi Arabia in the Western mainstream media is conflicting and biased, indeed much of it is negative. Due to Saudi Arabia’s importance in terms of regional stability, oil markets and its geographical location, it will, predictably, command the world’s attention.
The events organized by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) in Saudi Arabia are perhaps the most effective soft power tool and significant experiment in the country in recent years. The images spreading all over social media in Riyadh or Jeddah are equal to 1,000 newspaper articles. These types of events are the best public relations campaigns as they are improving the image of the Kingdom.
It is astonishing to see global interactions on Riyadh Season throughout social media platforms and international news outlets. The GEA has opened the door to creativity, competition and services, leading to a global public relations campaign for Saudi Arabia. These concerts have become the center of attention, a topic for TV shows to discuss and a development for research centers and think tanks to study. Coverage of international superstars, their visits and interactions with Saudis are changing hearts and minds, exposing Saudi Arabia to a new generation of societies in the East and West.
To be the center of positive attention and global interest, while enjoying your natural right to entertainment in a country that is secure and safe, is a wonder in a region that is otherwise in turmoil.
Economically, according to the statements of GEA Chairman Turki Al-Sheikh, the direct and indirect revenues of Riyadh Season amounted to SR5 billion ($1.33 billion). The number of visitors reached 1.3 million and there were 206,000 tourists from all over the world. The number of direct jobs the GEA created were 34,700, while 17,300 indirect jobs were created. Saudi Arabia issued 200,000 tourist visas during the period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15.
Aren’t you surprised?
These numbers and earnings would not have been achieved without the will and vision of King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, as well as the pioneering efforts and achievements of the GEA and its chairman.
Al-Sheikh has been able to achieve what major public relations firms and senior economic officials could not in terms of positive messaging, revenue and job creation. But nor was it a miracle, as Al-Sheikh worked hard to achieve the aspirations of Saudi Arabia’s leadership and by exploiting the significant resources of the country and its youth. It is an intelligent model for the Saudi official, one that should be applied to all ministries. Al-Sheikh endured attacks and negativity from haters on social media in order for his country to achieve impressive successes that the unjust and envious could not see.
Dear reader, you are not obliged to love this man, but you are compelled to have gratitude toward him.
Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst. Twitter: @Mr_Alshammeri