How Saudi events company Midwam lifted tourism and leisure experiences to a whole new level

Tourists visiting AlUla, which has been transformed into a living museum that is home to the remains of ancient civilizations, important historical sites and archaeological wonders dating back as far as 200,000 years. (Supplied)
Tourists visiting AlUla, which has been transformed into a living museum that is home to the remains of ancient civilizations, important historical sites and archaeological wonders dating back as far as 200,000 years. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 January 2022

How Saudi events company Midwam lifted tourism and leisure experiences to a whole new level

Tourists visiting AlUla, which has been transformed into a living museum that is home to the remains of ancient civilizations, important historical sites and archaeological wonders dating back as far as 200,000 years. (Supplied)
  • Jeddah-based firm celebrates Saudi culture by leveraging augmented, virtual and mixed reality as well as AI
  • For the 2021 AlUla Dates Festival, Midwam transported visitors through time with a living, breathing souq

DUBAI: A Saudi firm that specializes in curating entertainment and cultural events is taking tourism and leisure experiences in the Kingdom to a whole new level, as demonstrated during the recently held AlUla Dates Festival.

Events company Midwam has managed a host of sporting, cultural and musical extravaganzas. Its forte is delivering immersive experiences, in locations such as London, Paris, New York and Russia, that use the latest technologies to engage the senses.

Midwam says it leverages augmented, virtual and mixed reality as well as artificial intelligence to offer “innovative, flexible and smart solutions on multiple platforms.”

The company has worked on transformational events, including the first MDLBEAST Soundstorm music festival in Riyadh in December 2019, creating what it describes as “emotional and inspirational connections between the human and the brand.”




Events such as the MDLBEAST concerts offer visitors the chance to experience the richness of Saudi heritage and culture. (Supplied)

It counts leading Saudi public and private-sector organizations among its clients, including the Ministry of Culture, the Saudi Art Council and Misk Innovation.

“We are in the business of creating ‘big impact’ — that’s the most important thing for me,” Khalid Al-Muawad, the CEO and co-founder of Midwam, told Arab News. “If I don’t see ‘impact’ in the project, we don’t take it. We’re very selective with our projects in terms of impact.”

Over four weekends in October and November, the firm partnered with the Royal Commission for AlUla and the AlUla Dates Festival to give thousands of local and international visitors the chance to experience the richness of Saudi heritage and culture firsthand.




Jeddah-based events company Midwam celebrates Saudi culture and heritage through hi-tech, immersive offerings. (Supplied)

Once considered a lost city of the dead, AlUla has been transformed in recent years into a living museum that is home to the remains of ancient civilizations, important historical sites and archaeological wonders dating back as far as 200,000 years.

Located in northwestern Saudi Arabia and covering an area of more than 22,000 square kilometers, it is known for its dramatic sandstone mountains and fertile oases. Thanks to its location in the Arabian Peninsula, at a crossroads of civilizations, AlUla was once the ideal resting place for traveling merchants who covered great distances in trade caravans.

Midwam used its events expertise to bring the area’s unique heritage to life through an authentic souq, traditional music and even a date auction.

“We’re a company in Saudi Arabia that’s trying to explain to people that an experience should have its impact across different sectors,” Al-Muawad said. “We go across the market to showcase to people how experiences can really reflect on them, how it can impact them and be a very interesting tool for people to engage.”




The Qasr Al-Farid tomb (The Lonely Castle) carved into rose-coloured sandstone in Madain Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site, near Saudi Arabia's AlUla. (AFP)

Launched in 2012 and based in Jeddah, Midwam has a pool of diverse talents, including designers, developers, engineers, architects, storytellers and interior designers. With about 30 employees, of which 70 percent are Saudi and half are women, Midwam is in the business of hiring “the best of the best” when it comes to local talent, Al-Muawad explained.

“We’ve been surprised by the number of people who are capable of various things when they’re given an opportunity,” he said. “And I’m very thankful and grateful that we do have such talent under our umbrella, who are able to deliver.”

Thanks perhaps to his background in banking, Al-Muawad has a nose for investment opportunities. He identified such an opportunity when he spotted a massive unmet demand for innovative cultural and entertainment environments with which people can engage.

“The game is all about engagement,” he said. “How can you engage people with your product or your story? Given the latest solutions, technologies and methods that are being rolled out in the world right now, the ordinary way of engaging with stuff has become boring, less appealing and less engaging.




Khalid Al-Muawad, the CEO and co-founder of Midwam, spoke to Arab News. (Photo by Mokhtar Chahine)

“If you go to a bookstore, people want to use their hands, interact with content, flip pages, double click on a story and see a visual of it, go to its audio and listen to it rather than read. These are all engaging tools and solutions that are there.”

Such signs of changing behaviors across the market motivated the Midwam team to create experiences that target different aspects of culture, heritage, tourism, sports and entertainment through partnerships with firms in Saudi Arabia, the US, Europe and the Far East.

“In a nutshell, an experience is a space that contains people with an offering and a journey, and this is what we do,” Al-Muawad said. “We take spaces and transform them into a journey for people where they can engage with a story, a product, a scene, content, and they get to go through stops in this journey and interact with whatever program or offering that is designed for this space.”

When Midwam takes on a project, its team of architects, designers, engineers, developers, coders and content providers combine their talents to turn ideas for human-centric experiential journeys into reality.

In AlUla, for instance, the exceptional landscape provided a unique canvas that, in Al-Muawad’s words, could be transformed into a “magnificent magnet” for tourism by making the most of its outstanding natural beauty and ancient heritage.




The Journey Through Time Masterplan was launched in April last year to develop AlUla into a major global tourist attraction. (Supplied)

The Royal Commission for AlUla has developed a number of successful projects in the area in the past couple of years, but Al-Muawad believes there is still potential for growth.

Such growth is already underway; following the framework established by Saudi Vision 2030, the Journey Through Time Masterplan was launched in April last year to develop AlUla into a major global tourist attraction.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is chairman of the RCU, described the plan as “a leap forward to sustainably and responsibly develop AlUla and share our cultural legacy with the world.”

The RCU had a similar vision in mind when it hired Midwam to transform the AlUla Dates Festival. Al-Muawad’s team created a traditional souq for the event, staffed by local families selling their own produce, along with an auction area for those selling dates in bulk. Entertainment was also laid on, including a parade, a storyteller, musicians and a children’s area.

“We had very positive feedback from the public,” Al-Muawad said. “It was a great opportunity for us, based in Jeddah and Riyadh, to interact with locals in AlUla.




The Royal Commission for AlUla has developed a number of successful projects in the area in the past couple of years, but Al-Muawad believes there is still potential for growth. (AFP)

“We got to meet the farmers, and we got to understand the stories behind the generations who have been inheriting this business of growing and selling dates. So, it was a very interesting journey for us as well.”

Al-Muawad believes cultural engagement of this kind is a powerful tool for enabling people from diverse backgrounds to build a better understanding of one another. Saudi Arabia and its people have always been pioneers of hospitality, he said, with a true love of welcoming visitors.

“This is something not only within Saudi Arabia,” he added. “It has been a feature within Arabs for quite a long time. When we used to be in the middle of the desert, on camels and in tents, we always had visitors and it was a big thing — and it still is.

“So, it’s important that, within AlUla, when we give the opportunity for people to engage with citizens and locals, they get to understand how kind they are and how interested they are in the field of agriculture and how they have been inheriting it for generations.

“Once you learn about that, you learn more about this culture and understand the importance and significance within Saudi Arabia itself.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Updated 22 min 35 sec ago

Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
  • Abdullah Al-Eyaf discusses the importance of Saudi talent during the 75th Cannes Film Festival

CANNES: Abdullah Al-Eyaf, the CEO of the Saudi Film Commission, aims to drive the Saudi film industry by fostering an environment for young Saudi filmmakers to develop their passions and talents.

During a panel discussion hosted on Sunday in the March du Film pavilion in Cannes, Al-Eyaf expressed his vision for Saudi youth filmmakers and the important role they play in the industry.

“We in the commission strongly believe in the filmmakers in Saudi, actually they are the reason behind all that we do,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Kingdom’s film industry is bursting with talent and passion from Saudi filmmakers, writers, and artisans. What is needed now is the strong support from an entity to facilitate that growth. This is where the Saudi Film Commission plans to come into play.

The Saudi Film Commission, under the Ministry of Culture, has conducted numerous outreach and education programs to help Saudi filmmakers in the industry through masterclasses, workshops and training.

According to the CEO, Saudis play a pivotal role in the industry’s growth on a global and local level.

“These young filmmakers started before the commission was established and they will continue with or without the film commission that’s why we think the industry will not be built in Saudi without these filmmakers,” Al-Eyaf said.

HIGHLIGHT

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Therefore the commission is striving to establish a wider creative opportunity for Saudi talent through partnerships and representation in global film festivals such as the Cannes festival.

Through the organizations and initiatives of the Saudi Film Commission, the Saudi presence during the Cannes Film Festival has only grown stronger since the 74th Cannes film festival held in 2021.

It is known that Saudi Arabia has a wealth of locations through its 13 diverse provinces. During the initial days of the festival, this is what attracted many producers and filmmakers to the Saudi pavilion to learn more.

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Al-Eyaf said that Saudis are natural-born storytellers; what is needed now is to support and empower them throughout the film sector.

“We really appreciate what they are doing and our only role is to support them and to have Saudi Arabia as a friendly environment for filmmakers to create their films and tell their stories to the world and to Saudi,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Saudi Film Commission aims to expand and strengthen the Saudi film industry on a local and global level through partnerships, investment and educational empowerment.

During the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the Saudi pavilion welcomed some of the biggest global names in the film industry — producers, directors and actors — to partner on Saudi film projects.

The commission’s role isn’t only to support Saudi talents but it’s also to foster a community where directors explore collaborative initiatives from filming in Saudi to creating films with some of the many Saudi talents in the sector.

In January the commission launched the third phase of the “Film Makers” program that took students through sets of comprehensive training workshops that were spread throughout the Kingdom.

“We have already contacted hundreds (of Saudi filmmakers) via either training programs, grants or the fund that we launched a couple of years ago,” the CEO said.

The commission has developed an incentive package for local and international filmmakers to establish the Kingdom as a global hub for film, creative production and industry talent.


People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏
Updated 1 min 22 sec ago

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

JEDDAH:People who have taken vaccines against smallpox are highly likely to be safe from getting infected with monkeypox, a Saudi health specialist has said.

Dr. Nizar Bahabri, an infectious disease consultant, said in a video on his Twitter account, that the disease has been a well-known virus since 1950 and added the first case outside Africa was registered in 1970.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has also confirmed that no cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Kingdom, following reports that it has recently begun to appear in some European and North American countries.

“Since the disease is caused by a virus, no antibiotic can be used to cure the disease, some viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through air,” Bahabri said.

He also said that monkeypox is like smallpox in that it can be transmitted via droplets.

“It is difficult that one can get infected if they are two meters away from an infected person. Monkeypox can even only be transmitted from a shorter distance,” he said.

Cases being recorded in Europe are due to parties where people gather close to other infected people, he added.

“Those who have been vaccinated against smallpox are not likely to get infected by monkeypox, and here lies the importance of taking the vaccine,” Bahabri said.

The consultant pointed out that some people in Europe refused in the past to give anti-smallpox vaccines to their children, which has caused the virus to attack again.

Bahabri said that symptoms of monkeypox normally appear 12 days after coming into contact with an infected person. He added that an infected person normally recovers without any medication.

“Five percent of infected people get complications, while less than three percent die of the disease,” he said. “However, no deaths were reported in the countries with advanced health systems, with most of the deaths in Africa.”

The health ministry added in a post on Twitter that the disease can be transmitted by direct contact with blood or mucous of an infected animal.

It added that it can also be transmitted in humans through droplets, touching the blisters on an infected person’s skin or a hand touching contaminated surfaces.

The health ministry noted that the virus has an incubation period of 7-14 days, and that cannot extend to 21 days.

As for the symptoms, the ministry included high temperature, backache, skin rashes, lymphadenopathy, fatigue and muscle pain.

The ministry recommended people to avoid getting in contact with infected people, wearing gloves and face masks when close to patients, washing hands regularly and avoiding touching infected animals.


Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Updated 19 sec ago

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
  • Members agreed on importance of maintaining council’s new and advanced vision

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been unanimously re-elected to chair the executive council of the Tunis-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization until 2024.

The decision was made by members of ALECSO’s executive council after the 26th session of the general conference, which concluded its activities on Saturday.

Council members expressed their appreciation for the positive results achieved and the complementary work of the executive council during the past 10 months.

They unanimously agreed on the importance of maintaining the council’s new and advanced vision and reiterated that the accomplishments represented an important shift in the council's history toward strengthening its role in supporting the organization and its programs to serve its orientation in the Arab world, as it had worked on several initiatives that strengthened joint Arab action.

The decision to re-elect the Kingdom came after the appreciation of the general conference for the efforts made by the executive council under the Kingdom’s stewardship, which executed its tasks according to a clear methodology and spirit based on integrated work between the executive board and administration of ALECSO.

The Arab ministers praised the initiative of the Saudi representative and chairman of ALECSO's executive council, Hani Al-Moqbil, to develop the council’s road map, which was put together with a transparent methodology based on the involvement of countries in building a common Arab vision to support and enable the organization to achieve its goals.

Al-Moqbil extended his appreciation to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their constant support, empowerment, and care, which was reflected in the Saudi role and its presidency of the executive council to contribute to a beneficial impact and supportive action for the development of ALECSO.

He also thanked Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who is also the chairman of the National Committee for Education, Culture, and Science, for his support, guidance, supervision, and harnessing of capabilities which gave direct and significant support throughout the Saudi presidency which helped it in serving its goals with all Arab countries.

Al-Moqbil also thanked the Arab countries and members of the ALECSO executive council for their re-election of the Kingdom and for renewing their confidence in the results that had been achieved during the past 10 months.

He added that this could only have been achieved through the spirit of teamwork and keenness to develop the organization's activities and constructive participation in adopting decisions and organizing tracks of action to reach the best possible results to contribute to achieving the goals of the organization, and to promote building dialogue and cooperation thus serving the organization’s joint work among the countries.

Al-Moqbil said: “Saudi Arabia, in its presidency of the executive council, worked to oversee the interests of the countries by listening to their proposals, observations, and visions to ensure that they are reflected on the ground and implemented in stages. The countries will work with greater effort and higher interest in taking care of the organization's interests."


New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
Updated 1 min 3 sec ago

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
  • Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom’s military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years

RIYADH: Saudi nationals are to be trained to work in the military and defense industries sector following an announcement from the General Authority for Military Industries to establish a new academy.

GAMI Gov. Ahmed Al-Ohali said it was an extension of the military industry sector’s strategy that was approved by the Cabinet in April last year.

The National Academy of Military Industries would be the largest supporter of the sector’s strategy of backing the country’s human resources, he added.

The launch ceremony was held at the academy’s headquarters in Riyadh and attended by more than 35 local and international companies and government institutions. The academy's board of directors was formed at the event and the establishment license was handed over to the academy's chairman Walid Abu Khalid and other founding partners.

Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom's military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years.

He praised the special care, interest, and support that the military and defense industries sector received from the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to embody the ambitious vision toward enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia and building a local and sustainable military industries sector.

The Saudi Arabian Military Industries CEO and academy chairman Abu Khalid said the new institution was considered a strategic tool to ensure the success of the supply chain project in the military industries sector through developing and refining people's knowledge and capabilities in specialist technological, engineering, and scientific fields and specialists concerned with the military, defense, and security industries.

He stressed that developing, rehabilitating, and enabling national personnel, creating innovative and new industries and technologies, enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia, and seeking to localize this promising sector were all considered strategic goals that supported realizing the sector’s targets of localizing more than 50 percent of military expenditure by 2030.


Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
  • Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs

TUNIS: Saudi Deputy Minister of Education for Universities, Research and Innovation Mohammed Al-Sudairi headed the Kingdom’s delegation to the 26th session of the general conference of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and the meeting of its executive council at its 117th session in Tunis.

Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs and initiatives with regional and international organizations that serve its Vision 2030.

He also hailed the Kingdom’s achievements in the field of education, culture, science and intelligence, most notably its first position in the Arab world in patents, with the registration of 1,871 international patents, and its second place in terms of quality of education for 2021.

Al-Sudairi also talked about 22 awards it had won in the International Science and Engineering Fair 2022, as well as the award for the best researcher and project scientist at a global level, noting that the Kingdom supports national, regional and international visions to develop innovative cultural policies.

He said that the Kingdom launched an interactive laboratory for cultural policies, as well as a cultural scholarship program and development fund to enable young people to join the creative field.

The deputy minister said that the Kingdom gave $30 million to the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, in addition to launching an environment hackathon to support the objectives of the “Saudi Green Initiative” and to enhance the Kingdom’s digital role globally through a set of studies related to artificial intelligence.