A historic football match took place at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh on Thursday, Jan. 19, between a Riyadh Season team led by Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo, and Paris Saint-Germain, whose front three consists of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Brazil’s Neymar Jr.
Sponsored by the General Entertainment Authority, the friendly match was broadcast live worldwide. The winner of the special “Beyond Imagination” ticket, paid $2.6 million at auction for the chance to meet Ronaldo, Messi and the latter’s PSG teammates with behind-the-scenes access to the game. Proceeds from the sale will go to charity.
Riyadh Season’s marketing has clearly been developed carefully and could contain useful lessons for the Arab region and the world, specifically in how to manage tourism and entertainment events to enhance a country’s image, thus attracting tourists and investments, and diversifying the economy.
The marketing of events around the country is aimed at creating specific identities for their locations, just as New York has become known as ‘the city that never sleeps,’ or Paris as ‘the city of light.’ AlUla’s “Winter at Tantora” festival, for example, or Riyadh Season’s slogan, “Beyond Imagination.”
Since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030, more than 2,000 events have already been staged in the Kingdom, attracting an estimated total audience of 45 million and around $3 billion profit.
With numerous international sporting events — motor racing, wrestling, the South American classico between Argentina and Brazil, the Asian Cup in 2027, the Asian Winter Games in 2029 — already taking place in the Kingdom, and its joint bid to host the FIFA World Cup with Egypt and Greece in 2030, Saudi Arabia has really placed itself on the map in the sporting world. It is also bidding to host Expo in the same year.
Since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030, more than 2,000 events have already been staged in the Kingdom, attracting an estimated total audience of 45 million and around $3 billion profit. Beyond that, though, they have contributed to showing the world a side of Saudi culture it had never really seen before, since the country was primarily known for its religious tourism.
I believe that the new academic calendar approved by the Ministry of Education, with its three-semester system and relatively short vacations, will certainly work in the interest of domestic tourism, supporting the national economy by providing direct or indirect jobs for Saudis of both sexes.
Tourist numbers around the world reached two billion between 2018 and 2019, and 30 percent of them were reportedly interested in visiting heritage and cultural sites, which shows the great potential of AlUla and Diriyah.
Saudi Arabia has a proven track record of creating attractive tourist destinations. For example, Yanbu Industrial City, was once an industrial site not suitable for housing. It is now a tourist destination and festival venue after the intervention of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, which has created an entirely new waterfront there.
To truly appreciate the state’s identity, it is necessary to pay attention to the smallest details of the various regions’ geography and environment, as well as their cultural and historical values. The Hajj and Umrah seasons, together with the local tourism seasons, are a marketing opportunity. Part of the marketing drive can be to encourage Saudi students aboard to raise awareness of the Kingdom, in coordination with the Salam Project for Cultural Communication, and to encourage social-media influencers to build bridges of communication with diverse cultures to enhance the Kingdom’s image and promote its international standing.
• Dr. Bader bin Saud is a weekly columnist for Al-Riyadh and Okaz, a media and knowledge management researcher, and the former deputy commander of the Special Forces for Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia