2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started
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Updated 01 January 2022

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started
  • Many Saudis are experiencing home-grown arts, culture and sporting events for the first time ever 
  • After the delays and closures of the pandemic, the entertainment calendar is packed once more 

RIYADH: For around 30 years, entertainment venues, from cinemas to concert halls, were bolted shut across Saudi Arabia, depriving citizens and visitors of outlets to enjoy cultural, sporting and artistic activities in public 

All that began to change in 2016 with the establishment of the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Kingdom’s wide-ranging social and economic reform agenda, Vision 2030.

Five years on, the thirst for entertainment in Saudi Arabia is plain to see. In the space of just two months, up to 8 million people have taken part in Riyadh Season 2021 — a cultural extravaganza that was unheard of just half a decade ago.




Boys wave national flags during celebrations in Riyadh marking Saudi Arabia's National Day on Sept. 23, 2020. (AFP)

The General Entertainment Authority was established to help drive ahead the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, allowing it to become a global leader in the creative, leisure, tourism and hi-tech industries.

Now, Saudi citizens and international visitors, no matter their level of income, can enjoy a whole host of entertainment options previously denied to them, improving their quality of life and the Kingdom’s appeal as a work and investment destination.




Entrepreneurs offer camel rides in AlUla. (AN file photo)

Within just five years, the GEA has issued 2,189 licenses and 1,809 permits allowing more than 2,500 companies to launch home-grown entertainment ventures. The sector has already created more than $1 billion in profits and attracted over 75 million visitors.

Although Saudi Arabia’s entertainment revolution suffered setbacks in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events suspended, venues closed, and international travel barred for several months, the cultural calendar returned with a bang in 2021. Much is still to come.




Saudi fans mob a wrestling star during a WWE event in Jeddah. (Supplied)

For a whole generation of young Saudis, this will be another year of firsts.

Until the late 1980s, Saudi cities enjoyed a flourishing artistic movement that offered the public a wide variety of entertainment options. However, this came to an end in the early 1990s.




Saudi fans attend the "MDL Beast Fest", an electronic music festival, held in Banban on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 19, 2019. (AFP file)

For a time, just two music festivals took place per year — one at the Muftaha Theater in Abha, and another at Jeddah’s Summer Concerts — until these too were stopped. The last open concert in Riyadh took place in 1992 during Al-Janadriyah festival.

FASTFACTS

2016 General Entertainment Authority established.

2017 First public concerts in nearly three decades.

2018 35-year ban on public cinemas finally lifted.

2018 Kingdom’s first ever Diriyah E-Prix.

2019 Launch of Saudi Seasons initiative.

The silence was broken in March 2017 with the Kingdom’s first public concert in nearly three decades. Although attendance was limited to men only, tickets for the performance by Saudi artists Mohammed Abdu and Rashid Al-Majed sold out immediately.




The Cairo Opera House's National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) perform at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in Riyadh on April 25, 2018. (AFP)

Later that year, Saudi Arabia hosted its first public performance by a female artist. Lebanese singer Heba Tawaji performed on stage at the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh to an exclusively female audience of 3,000.

During the same year, Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. In a tweet before his arrival in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We are going to be experiencing history in the making and I would not miss it for anything in the world! First stop Jeddah! ...Yanni.”




Participants at work during the Formula E race in Diriyah, Riyadh. (AFP)

The following year saw the launch of Ad Diriyah concerts, with several performances held on the sidelines of the Kingdom’s biggest event — the Formula E race in Diriyah — including an unforgettable show by French DJ David Guetta.

“That concert was magical. I loved every second of it,” music fan Eithar Alshadukhi told Arab News at the time. “David Guetta’s songs are amazing, but when he created a special piece for Saudi Arabia, it blew me away.”




Mariah Carey performing in Jeddah in 2019. (AN file photo)

In 2019, American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey performed in Jeddah, making her the highest-profile international artist to perform in the Kingdom since the easing of restrictions on entertainment.

During the same year, K-Pop boy band BTS became the first foreign artists to play a solo stadium show in Saudi Arabia before an audience of over 60,000 at the King Fahd International Stadium.




Music concerts blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. (Supplied)

Music concerts are not the only field of entertainment that has blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. Intensely proud of its heritage and natural beauty, the Kingdom has invested heavily in promoting leisure and tourism activities in its coastal, mountain and desert regions.

In the process, Saudi Arabia has broken several Guinness World Records, including a 2020 record for the largest hot air balloon glow show over the ancient city of AlUla, with 100 balloons spread across 3 km of sky.




Hot air balloon festival in the ancient city of AlUla. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Season 2021 also received two Guinness World Record certificates for “Avalanche.” With 24 lanes reaching a record height of more than 22 meters, it was recognized as both the world’s tallest fun slide and the one with the most lanes.

INNUMBERS

2,500 Companies licensed by General Entertainment Authority.

$1bn Saudi entertainment industry profits over past 5 years.

75m Visitors to recent Saudi-hosted events and activities.

Another area of entertainment that has boomed over the past five years is the film industry. In 2018, the 35-year ban on public cinemas was finally lifted, spurring the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi” — the first nationally owned and operated cinema in Saudi Arabia — first in Jeddah then throughout the Kingdom.




The lifting in 2018 of a 35-year ban on public cinemas has spurred the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi”. (Supplied)

In 2019, the Red Sea International Film Festival was launched, bringing together Saudi and international filmmakers, actors, and industry professionals to celebrate cinema and the world’s greatest on-screen talent.

The festival’s ambitious mandate is to develop and promote the film industry in Saudi Arabia, discover raw regional talent, and support a new wave of cinema worldwide.




The opening of the Kingdom's entertainment industry has spurred interest in filmmaking and acting. (File photo)

To preserve and promote Saudi Arabia’s rich and unique culture, while also boosting the domestic and international tourism market, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 to high acclaim.

Festivals have taken place in Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province, Taif, AlUla, Ad Diriyah, and elsewhere, celebrating the Kingdom’s diverse local crafts and traditions, while also creating jobs for young Saudis.




Hundreds of resorts have sprung up across Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom opened its tourism industry a few years back. (SPA)

Tourism is one area Saudi Arabia is especially eager to promote with the launch of its Saudi e-visa in 2019. The Kingdom expects to have hosted 100 million tourists by 2030, drawn by a mixture of new luxury resorts on its coastline, educational outings among its spectacular ancient ruins, and adventure activities in its vast deserts and lush mountains.

So much has already been achieved in the Kingdom’s leisure and entertainment industries since reforms began just five years ago. No doubt 2022 will be another year of firsts on the road to 2030.


Saudi Arabia records further drop in daily COVID-19 infections

Saudi police check pilgrims for vaccination details on their smartphone, after Saudi authorities announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions, at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (Reuters/File Photo)
Saudi police check pilgrims for vaccination details on their smartphone, after Saudi authorities announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions, at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi Arabia records further drop in daily COVID-19 infections

Saudi police check pilgrims for vaccination details on their smartphone, after Saudi authorities announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions, at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • A total of 8,918 people have now died from the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced another two deaths from COVID-19 and 4,608 new infections on Saturday.

Numbers of confirmed cases have started to drop over the past week, after a sharp increase earlier in January, and it was the second consecutive day with a decrease in cases; with 276 fewer recorded than on Friday.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 594,762 after 4,622 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,918 people have now died from the virus in the Kingdom so far.

The Saudi health ministry is continuing with the Kingdom's vaccination plan, and more than 55 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.

Saudi Arabia recently updated its COVID-19 restrictions, announcing new fines of SR1,000 ($266) for those who flout social distancing rules, and SR100,000 ($266,000) for repeat offenders.

Social distancing is required at Makkah’s Grand Mosque and other public places, while masks are also required in public places, indoors and outdoors.

On Tuesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization chief said that the pandemic was “nowhere near over,” and urged against a narrative that the fast-spreading omicron variant was risk-free.


Saudi Arabia and Sweden explore investment opportunities at Expo 2020 event

 Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Sweden were in the spotlight during a two-day Saudi-Sweden event at Expo 2020 Dubai. (Supplied)
Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Sweden were in the spotlight during a two-day Saudi-Sweden event at Expo 2020 Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi Arabia and Sweden explore investment opportunities at Expo 2020 event

 Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Sweden were in the spotlight during a two-day Saudi-Sweden event at Expo 2020 Dubai. (Supplied)
  • The event was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Investment (MISA), Invest Saudi, the Embassy of Sweden, and Business Sweden

LONDON: Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Sweden were in the spotlight during a two-day Saudi-Sweden event at Expo 2020 Dubai this week. 

A series of panel discussions explored how to boost trade relations between the two countries on Jan. 16-17 at the two countries’ pavilions as part of the Expo.

The event was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Investment (MISA), Invest Saudi, the Embassy of Sweden, and Business Sweden.

The first day, hosted at the Sweden Pavilion, included opening remarks by Niclas Trouvé, ambassador of Sweden to Saudi Arabia; Hussain Hanbazazah, commissioner general of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pavilion; and Jan Thesleff, Commissioner General of the Swedish Pavilion.

Hanbazazah highlighted how Swedish companies have operated in the Kingdom for more than 70 years, noting that Saudi Arabia is Sweden’s largest economic partner in the Middle East and No. 1 trade partner among the Scandinavian countries, with the volume of trade exchange in the past five years reaching more than US$6 billion.

“As a continuation to our historical relationship, we are inspired by the efforts made by our leaders towards advancing bilateral relations between our two countries, resulting in the recent establishment of the Saudi-Swedish Business Council in Stockholm, exchanging expertise and knowledge, and setting plans and programs to seize investment opportunities and turn them into tangible partnerships,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia welcomes and invites Swedish companies to invest in our country and to take advantage of the opportunities and initiatives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, especially in sustainability, smart cities, manufacturing industries and areas such as e-commerce and information technology.”

Swedish ambassador Trouvé, Ambassador of Sweden to Saudi Arabia, said talks over the two-day event were mainly about “progressive performance.”

He continued: “Saudi Arabia and Sweden have a fantastic journey ahead, to protect people and the planet through sustainable and green solutions. We have to do this together through strengthening partnerships between governments and the private sector in order to move forward together.”

The two-day event concluded with a cultural performance, and guests were invited to attend another key event on Feb. 7, when the Saudi Pavilion will be partnering with MISA and Invest Saudi to host a full-day business forum at the Dubai Exhibition Center where sectorial investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia will be discussed.


Saudi elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
  • Psychological preparation and support important for the children as it will help them resume their studies and interactions with their peers, says mother-of-two

JEDDAH: As teachers and education authorities prepare for the long-awaited return of younger children to school classrooms on Sunday, so too are the students and their parents.

The Saudi Ministry of Education announced last week that elementary schools and kindergartens will reopen on Jan. 23, almost two years after they closed as a health precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The resumption of in-person teaching for the under-12s had been postponed from October last year.
“It’s a decision we must face one day and my children are excited to return to school and it is better for them,” Ala’a Alama, mother of two, told Arab News.
Schools in Saudi Arabia closed classrooms and switched to online learning soon after the pandemic began in early 2020. More than 5 million students across the Kingdom used specially developed distance-learning platforms called Madrasati and Rawdati.  Jumana Haj Ahmad, UNICEF’s deputy representative for the Gulf region, said that Saudi authorities had played a world-leading role in the provision of online education.
In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

HIGHLIGHTS

• In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

• It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.

It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. As part of the program, schools will offer art activities, children’s theater, cultural and entertainment workshops, take photos and shoot videos as students return, and distribute gifts.
Alama said that psychological preparation and support is important for the children as it will help them to resume their studies and interactions with their peers.
Schools will also provide 22 cultural, sports and awareness activities to give students plenty of opportunities to get physically active again after a hiatus of almost two years.
Meanwhile, the online education facilities will remain available for children with serious health conditions that prevent them from returning to the classroom.
Educators in charge of kindergartens and elementary schools across the Kingdom will follow safety guidelines from the Saudi Public Health Authority: Morning assemblies will remain suspended; sports activities must be conducted in spacious, well-ventilated locations; organized entry and departure from school will be organized; and social-distancing measures must be followed in classrooms.
Alama said her children, who are 7 and 10 years old, are aware of all the precautionary measures they need to follow.
“During the pandemic, they learned the importance of washing their hands, maintaining social distancing, and using masks, sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, which are all kept in a kit prepared for them to take to school,” she said.
UNICEF’s Ahmad this week praised the decision by Saudi authorities to resume in-person teaching for children under the age of 12. Older children have already returned to classrooms.
Ahmad said it is an important step and added that during a pandemic, schools should be the last places to close and first to reopen.
 In addition,  Saudi Arabia’s provision of online education through its two platforms and TV and video channels was world-leading. She also praised the Ministry of Education’s efforts to ensure children’s successful psychological and social growth, and programs designed to protect them from abuse.


Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
Updated 22 January 2022

Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
  • The interactive screens display data in six major languages and provide a QR code

MAKKAH: As part of its plan to develop and upgrade the quality of the guidance system, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has launched a new service for worshippers, providing them with interactive screens that display the guidance map of the Grand Mosque and its facilities.
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf (the area for circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba) and Mas’a building, through providing direct movement paths from the location of the user to the destination.
The interactive screens also display data in six major languages and provide a QR code so that the routes can be viewed via personal devices. 


Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
  • The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances

RIYADH: Legal and financial experts have supported the decision of the Saudi Attorney General Saud Al-Mojeb to create new specialized units for investigating financial fraud.
Zahra Al-Nasser, an assistant professor in the department of finance and banking at Dar Al-Uloom University, told Arab News that the move to form new specialized units to investigate financial fraud will significantly enhance business sector governance and protect against the degradation of the pillars of economic prosperity.
“The best example is the collapse of the Saudi financial market in 2006. The market lost more than SR1 trillion ($266 billion), which is still fresh in the minds of investors, affected investor confidence, and resulted in the loss of much of their wealth and savings. One of the reasons was the Saudi market’s weak legislation,” Al-Nasser said.

Legal advisor, Thamer Al-Enezi. (Supplied)

Thamer Al-Enezi, a legal adviser, told Arab News that financial fraud has become an international issue, deceiving some highly educated workers due to its professionalism.
Al-Enezi said it was necessary to have highly efficient specialists to deal with fraud.

The Public Prosecution stressed the importance of addressing all cases of financial fraud, particularly those that involve cross-border networks.
The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances.
The Public Prosecution added that the new units have specialists in financial fraud crimes who are members of the Public Prosecution Office and have received investigation training courses.
The courses include criminal patterns and methods, tracking perpetrators, and stolen funds.

The possible punishments for individuals convicted of committing financial crimes include up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).

Al-Enezi, who owns a law firm, added that some financial frauds use the corporate entity as a cover, affecting the corporate sector’s reliability.
Therefore, a package of preventive measures was taken by government agencies such as the Saudi Central Bank and other authorities such as the Public Prosecution to protect society from money fraud. These measures help adhere to high governance standards and maintain formidable cybersecurity levels.
Al-Enezi pointed out that some of these crimes have technical flaws that facilitate financial fraud detection.
The law for combating financial fraud stipulates that guilty parties will be imprisoned “for no more than seven years and fined no more than SR5 million.”
Al-Nasser said that companies are now expected to take bolder steps to fight fraud, such as updating frameworks and approaches, increasing commitment and compliance, enhancing precautions and using deeper audits.
She said that companies may incur additional costs as they update procedures because many of them fall into financial fraud due to “weak internal governance mechanisms.”
The assistant professor praised the new units and focus on financial fraud, which she said would improve investor confidence and contribute to “the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals through the Financial Sector Development Program, which aims to deepen the financial market, increase liquidity levels and improve transparency.”