Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era

Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era
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HyperSpace features a mix of digital and physical entertainment, including gaming attractions, immersive theater experiences and interactive areas for content creation. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era
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HyperSpace features a mix of digital and physical entertainment, including gaming attractions, immersive theater experiences and interactive areas for content creation. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 January 2024
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Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era

Saudi Arabia invests millions in tech-powered entertainment era
  • KSA’s recreation landscape transforms with a fresh infusion of new investments and technology in city-based celebrations

DUBAI: As Saudi Arabia enters another busy event season, including grand city-based celebrations in Riyadh and Diriyah, a host of new entertainment ventures powered by new technology are opening up in the Kingdom.

The latest move came in October when HyperSpace announced a $55 million Series A funding round, which was largely raised from the Saudi public sector. The three-year-old startup designs, owns, and operates digital immersive entertainment parks, positioned to revitalize the retail ecosystem. 

The funding came from Riyadh Season, a government-backed entertainment initiative under the Public Investment Fund, which provided most of the debt and equity raised by HyperSpace.

The other participants in the financing round included US-based Galaxy Interactive, SEGA Ventures and UK-headquartered Apis Venture Partners.

“It’s really the world’s most innovative entertainment attraction,” Alexander Heller, the CEO of HyperSpace, told Arab News, adding: “It offers a completely new approach to location-based entertainment, as an attraction that is extremely innovative, built on technologies that already exist in the digital world and are being pulled into a physical front end for the first time.”

Heller describes the attraction as like “TikTok and Fornite had a big physical baby.”

He added: “It is part content creation arena and part physical video game. A park truly built on larger themes of content consumption, internet culture, and hype culture moving into a physical front-end entertainment space.”

HyperSpace features a mix of digital and physical entertainment, including gaming attractions, immersive theater experiences and interactive areas for content creation.

The company opened its latest venue, House of Hype, in the capital city as part of the fourth edition of Riyadh Season, dubbed the world’s largest winter entertainment event.

Bight and colorful phosphorescent lights greet guests, who enter several futuristically designed rooms in the new Riyadh House of Hype.

Visitors then become virtually immersed in technology, play games and even get to shop in what has been dubbed the largest immersive entertainment park experience connecting the real world to the world of virtual reality.

“It is very much inspired by the idea of building a big physical video game and pulling the identities and tactics of the AAA gaming world into a physical space,” added Heller.

“The PARX platform brings the digital layer of the park to life, built to enhance game place through a token driven rewards system mirroring game economies of the gaming world, and ultimately there to enhance the visitors digital identity engagement.”

“It is very much like a physical rendition of a big video game,” added Heller. “Built on an AAA gaming economy powered by the world’s most cutting-edge physical gaming system that we’ve built, which is far more complex and smart.”

“AAA” refers to high-budget, high-profile video games usually produced and distributed by well-known publishers. It signifies the high standards of production values, development resources and marketing budgets used to build the game.

The 60,000 sq. foot park uses an in-house currency called HyperCoin and generates gaming challenges using artificial intelligence data. 

Saudi Arabia is positioning itself at the forefront of new innovation and technology across so many major sectors. It is mind-blowing.

Alexander Heller, CEO of HyperSpace

Heller explains how the PARX app is HyperSpace’s digital layer, offering a gaming and digital identity-driven component to the physical attraction, built to engage the visitor further within the park and after their visit.

Furthermore, Heller added that House of Hype was built to evangelize Web3 technologies to a mass market audience. It introduces customers to their first wallet, non-fungible tokens, “in-world currency” and allows them to engage in a meaningful and attainable manner, in which they are successful.

In essence, customers will engage further with new technology in a controlled sandbox, where their success and engagement are measured by their willingness to play.

House of Hype reflects the push to incorporate new technologies in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning entertainment market, exemplified largely this year through the program and range of events and experiences as part of Riyadh Season.

HyperSpace was founded in Dubai in January 2021 and comprises a team of multi-disciplinary industry experts from well-known companies such as Google, SNAP, The Mill, Amazon, Unity, and Apple.

The company is bridging the gap between the allure of AAA video games, social media, and other forms of digital entertainment and the timeless appeal of in-person fun with friends and family.

Its debut entertainment attraction, AYA, located at Wafi Mall in Dubai, is a digital immersive experience with 12 experience zones across 40,000 sq. feet. It sold over 480,000 tickets in its first nine months of operation.

Its House of Hype in Riyadh will become a permanent attraction in Boulevard City after the Riyadh Season ends.

Riyadh Season, which opened on Oct.28 and will close in April 2024, has become a massive draw for local and international visitors.

From international cuisine, courtesy of exclusive high-end restaurants, to dynamic rides and immersive experiences, the city will capture and reflect Riyadh’s Najdi heritage to its present-day, forward-thinking dynamism as it jets into the future.

In a video posted by General Entertainment Authority Chairman Turki Alalshikh on his X account in September, he announced that Riyadh Season would offer a range of 60 “new experiences” that harness high-tech elements.

The first of which he mentioned would be the world of “Barbie,” reviving the brand’s history and reflecting the release of the blockbuster movie earlier this year.

The event is also hosting the Disney castle for the first time in the Middle East as part of the company’s centennial celebration, which he said includes “amazing shows inspired by the most famous animated Disney movies.”

The other immersive experiences include the “Dancing Fountains” and “Blippi Wonders,” an educational and entertainment experience for children. Moreover, the “Zero Latency Experience” allows visitors to interact with digital content realistically.

“We are excited to witness the rapid growth of HyperSpace in Saudi Arabia as they endeavor to build this generation’s next entertainment company, which comes at the intersection of technology, AI and Web3,” Alalshikh said in a statement. In addition to emphasizing new technology for entertainment and leisure experiences, AlalShikh said the fourth edition “aims to create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and enable nearly 2,000 local and international companies.”

Riyadh Season will cover an area of more than 7 million sq. meters of entertainment experiences.

“This season is different,” he said, adding: “Big time.”

The move toward a tech-powered entertainment era is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to reduce its dependence on oil revenues by investing in other areas, including culture, tourism, sports teams and electric vehicle production.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to become a global gaming hub scored big after Savvy Games, owned by the Public Investment Fund, completed the acquisition of Scopely, a leading US-based video gaming firm, for $4.9 billion.

Qiddya Entertainment City, located about 45 kilometers from the center of Riyadh, is also expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city by 2030. The city will cover 334 sq. km.

The buzz around entertainment clearly reflects the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 blueprint that aims to improve the quality of life for Saudi citizens through cultural, entertainment, and sports activities.

The Kingdom’s entertainment and amusement sector is expected to be worth $1.17 billion by 2030.

“Saudi Arabia is positioning itself at the forefront of new innovation and technology across so many major sectors,” Heller told Arab News. “It is mind-blowing.”


Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive
Updated 46 min 8 sec ago
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Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

RIYADH: Low-cost carrier Wizz Air plans to invest over half a billion dollars in flight operations in Saudi Arabia to enhance connectivity and attract more tourists, according to the airline’s president.

In an interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum, Robert Carey emphasized the impact on tourism, noting that inbound visitors typically stay for three to seven days and spend money on various services like hotels, car rentals, and food.

“We’ve invested over half $1 billion into our flying in the Kingdom so far. we’re going to keep growing that. I think we’ve got a lot to do. Just keep connecting the destinations we’ve already got, connect more of those points together,” Carey said.

Wizz Air is the third-largest low-cost carrier in Europe and the fifth-largest airline e-commerce site globally. It aims to bring more tourists to Saudi Arabia and enhance its accessibility, with plans to continue connecting existing destinations and expand further. 

“We’re operating to seven different destinations from Saudi Arabia. We have four points here. You know, we’re seeing really great consumer response to this. Roughly two to one external like people coming into the Kingdom versus people leaving the Kingdom, on trips,” Carey said.

He added: “But that’s giving a great benefit. We’ve got tourists coming in. We’re giving access to Saudi customers who have travel.”

He also expresses the airline’s positive passenger experience, praising the airline’s clean, new planes, welcoming flight crew, and on-time scheduling.

Additionally, Carey stated that Wizz is working with the minister of tourism, the minister of transport, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the Saudi Tourism Authority on their connectivity program.

“If you look at the airline planning season, we’re just coming up on the period where everybody starts announcing what they’re going to do for this winter, so all I’ll say for right now is stay tuned. There’s more to come,” he said.

Carey noted that Wizz Air celebrated its 20th birthday this week, and to mark this milestone, the airline will launch a special promotion on May 21.

He hints that the promotion will be closely related to the anniversary, suggesting significant discounts on every flight. They encourage people to visit the website to take advantage of the upcoming offers.


AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official
Updated 20 May 2024
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AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aviation industry’s supply chain management is set to receive a boost thanks to the use of artificial intelligence in logistics, a top official said.

Speaking on the first day of the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh on Monday, Suliman Almazroua, CEO of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, said that AI implementation will also enhance productivity and customer experience.

“AI in logistics, for example, is shaping and optimizing the supply chain management, improving productivity, productivity maintenance, and enhancing customer experience,” he said.

The official said the rapid technological advancements are reshaping the future of industries.

The CEO highlighted the Saudi aviation sector’s achievements in terms of increased number of passengers, cargo handling, fleet expansion, rise in infrastructure investment, and global connectivity.

Addressing the forum, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, director general and CEO of Airports Council International shed light on how the aviation industry suffered from different crises.

“I remember from 9/11 to (the 2008) financial crisis to SARS to COVID-19, we always faced an issue, but we are a very resilient industry and we always come back,” Oliveira noted.

He said: “That’s why when you talk about macroeconomic stuff, we see that geopolitical risks are something that can affect us. That we have the inflation going up, of course, affects our business as well. We have the interest rates that affect our GDP.”

“But it is incredible that even considering all these headwinds, the unemployment rate is going down and people are eager to travel,” Oliveira justified.

He also talked about how jet fuel prices, which are the main cost for the industry, are very high nowadays.

“Of course, this affects our ability to fly and also affects the cost of the tickets,” Oliveira said.

Stefan Schulte, CEO of Fraport AG in Germany, clarified that the focus on innovation, sustainability, and connecting people and culture resembled the beginning of a new era.

“The expectations of our customers are constantly increasing. They want consistent, digitalized, resilient, and seamless processes, but they also want us to go green,” Schulte said.

Organized by the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the three-day event will see discussions on issues related to the global flight sector, air transport, and environmental sustainability in civil aviation, as well as talks on enabling advanced air transport and enhancing global connectivity. 

The event also aligns with the Kingdom’s ambition to become a leader in the sector within a decade, including securing $100 billion worth of investments by 2030.


Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO
Updated 20 May 2024
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Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

RIYADH: Electric passenger drones are set to be launched in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year with Alkhobar-based firm Front End set to introduce the service to the Kingdom, revealed its CEO. 

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum, Majed Al-Ghaslan, who is also the chairman of the company, stated that Front End’s collaboration with the Chinese electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle developer EHang is facilitating the deployment of such electric flights in the Kingdom. 

Al-Ghaslan said: “We’re pushing the boundary of air traffic, also urban traffic management systems. So we’re discussing this with the Civil Aviation Authority (General Authority of Civil Aviation) here in the Kingdom. We’re very closely aligned with the Ministry of Transport.” 

He added: “We have electric buses and cars now; you’re going to have electric flights for passengers. And this is already running in many cities around the world. We want Riyadh and the major cities around the Kingdom to be the first as well. The idea is to launch the pilots this year and hopefully start launching this service as well this year.” 

The official also added that the deployment of these electric drones, capable of carrying passengers, in the Kingdom is very feasible, as such services are running effectively in countries like China, Indonesia, and Japan. 

During the talk, he revealed that these proposed electric flights, which take off vertically, can be used for both carrying passengers and for logistics purposes. 

According to Al-Ghaslan, these flights are capable of traveling up to 30 minutes with two passengers, and with more advanced batteries, the distance can be extended further. 

He explained, “You can do a 30-minute flight, but still, 30 minutes is a long flight. For example, in Riyadh, you can cover end to end because you are going direct path to anywhere, with two passengers. So you can take up to 250 kilograms. And then with more advanced batteries, the distance can be even higher.” 

The official added that the drones capable of carrying passengers, which will be introduced in Saudi Arabia, will be autonomous and will operate using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence. 

Discussing Front End’s eagerness to enter the air mobility sector, Al-Ghaslan noted that the Kingdom’s transformative Vision 2030 program has facilitated the firm’s entry into the industry. 

“Typically, what we do is partner with and localize companies, bringing them into the Kingdom. I never thought I’d be in aviation, but because of the new frontiers that include electric vehicles that vertically take off and land, and advancements in passenger-level drones, that is our interest. We run drone services for our clients, but we are now getting into the air mobility sector,” said Al-Ghaslan. 

He added, “The Vision 2030 program actually enabled this transformation to take place, and there are now national-level strategies. We are at the forefront of making it happen from the private sector at least.” 

The official also noted that Front End is planning to introduce a ride-hailing service in Saudi Arabia using a fleet of electric vehicles, under a partnership with an Indian company named Blue Smart. 

“We’re also launching a ride-hailing service. So, this is something we’re also going to be announcing at the right time, again, electric. So, our theme is around sustainability as well. It’s a company from India called Blue Smart. And this is also going to be announced this year,” he concluded. 


Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO
Updated 20 May 2024
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Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO
  • New attire will ‘become instantly recognizable as the Riyadh color’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new airline, Riyadh Air, is set to unveil its cabin crew special uniform at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week, according to its CEO.

On the sidelines of this year’s Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh, Tony Douglas, CEO of Riyadh Air, shared in an interview with Arab News a series of strategic developments that are set to propel the new airline into the global spotlight. 

With Riyadh Air scheduled to launch in the summer of next year, Douglas highlighted the airline’s upcoming milestone at Paris Fashion Week, which will take place from June 18-23.

“Our next milestone will be (in) June in Paris,” he said. “This is going to be about Paris Fashion Week. Now, what would we possibly do in Paris Fashion Week? For the first time ever as an airline, we will reveal our haute couture fashion collection. So our cabin crew won’t wear cabin crew uniforms. It’ll be cabin crew fashion,” he added. 

Drawing inspiration from the fashion depicted in the film “Catch Me If You Can,” Douglas emphasized the airline’s commitment to style and sophistication. 

“If you can ever remember the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ where DiCaprio goes through the terminal building, and everybody stops to photograph them because they look glamorous. They look fashionable. They look refined. And we want to bring that back with a modernist twist. And that’s what we’ll be revealing at Paris Fashion Week at the end of June,” he explained.

The new uniforms will feature a unique color that Douglas believed would become “instantly recognizable as the Riyadh color.”

He added: “We want to get that kind of glamor into aviation to make sure that this brand, because of course, the brand is Riyadh wherever it’s identified around the world, that immediately speaks to quality, grace, refinement, and fashion.”

In addition to fashion, Riyadh Air is rapidly building its operational capabilities, according to the top official.

“We now have our first group of pilots who’ve joined us. So we’ve got over 30 instructor pilots, they’re the highest qualified pilots you can get from lots of different international airlines. They’re, of course, engaged with us at this stage to assist with our certification flying. And we’ll start our certification flying in September of this year. So literally months away now,” Douglas revealed.

He added: “Yesterday, our third batch of cabin crew started with us, so this feels like a real airline now.”

The interest in joining Riyadh Air has been extraordinary, according to Douglas. 

He noted the overwhelming response to their careers page, saying: “The statistic that I still almost struggle to comprehend in a very positive way is if you go onto RiyadhAir.com, our website, there’s a careers page, and it allows you to put in your personal details. In just over a year, we’ve had 1.1 million people send the details, their qualifications and their contacts to be considered to become part of the Riyadh Air family, 146 different nationalities, and we think that that’s just completely staggering.”

He added: “We ask ourselves why I would never have imagined so much interest and my only explanation is it’s because it’s under the leadership and the decree of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

Looking ahead, Douglas confirmed that Riyadh Air’s headquarters will soon be visible near Riyadh International Airport. 

“Our brand new headquarters building will be available for us to start occupying in the summer of this year. And just out by Riyadh International Airport, people will see their biggest brand logo lit up in the skyline, probably in the next two months. And that’s when you will know where the home of the Riyadh Air family is,” Douglas announced.

The CEO acknowledged the challenges and opportunities ahead by reflecting on the industry’s current dynamics: “What a difference two or three years makes pre-pandemic. It was actually difficult to make any money in aviation. Ticket prices for a decade were almost at an all-time low.” 

Douglas added: “Here we are today, where demand is significantly ahead of supply in many markets and, in particular, our market. But also we all know ticket prices are actually expensive at the moment. I don’t think that will last because it is a cyclical industry and it’s one again where classic Keynesian economics supply and demand at the moment.” 

The Riyadh Air head confidently predicted ongoing market growth and outlined the carrier’s mission, saying: “Is the market going to continually grow? The answer is very simply, yes it is. Back to the proposition of Riyadh Air. We’ll bring a full-service carrier, the sort of carrier that the Kingdom needs and quite frankly, demands such that we’ll have global connectivity.” 

Douglas invited guests to witness Riyadh Air’s debut at Paris Fashion Week and teased future technological innovations. 

“Come and see us in Paris. Come and see the incredible fashion, which will stand out, but also later on in the year will start to reveal what our digital proposition is, and that will be another standout case for our industry,” he concluded.


Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   
Updated 20 May 2024
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Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Monday, losing 73.02 points, or 0.60 percent, to close at 12,125.36.     

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6 billion ($1.6 billion) as 68 of the listed stocks advanced, while 155 retreated.   

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu also slipped 25.51 points, or 0.09 percent, to close at 27,036.50. This came as 24 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 40 retreated.  

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index also dropped 13.53 points, or 0.89 percent, to close at 1,515.07.  

The best-performing stock of the day was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. which saw its share price surge 7.69 percent to SR0.14.  

Other top performers include Almasane Alkobra Mining Co. as well as the Mediterranean and Gulf Insurance and Reinsurance Co., whose share prices soared by 7.05 percent and 6.72 percent, respectively, to stand at SR63.80 and SR25.40.     

In addition to this, other top performers included Almunajem Foods Co. and Methanol Chemicals Co.  

The worst performer was Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co., whose share price dropped by 8.04 percent to SR10.06.   

Al-Babtain Power and Telecommunication Co. as well as Ash-Sharqiyah Development Co., also saw their share prices dropping by 7.39 percent and 4.45 percent respectively, to stand at SR41.35 and SR20.20.

Moreover, other worst performers also include Arabian Contracting Services Co. and East Pipes Integrated Co. for Industry.  

On Nomu, Future Care Trading Co. was the top gainer with its share price rising by 11.05 percent to SR15.28.   

Other best performers on Nomu were Professional Medical Expertise Co. as well as Osool and Bakheet Investment Co., whose share prices soared by 8.42 percent and 4.53 percent to stand at SR103 and SR 41.50, respectively.  

Other top gainers also include Sure Global Tech Co. and Ghida Alsultan for Fast Food Co.  

Leen Alkhair Trading Co. experienced a significant drop in its share price on Nomu, with the company’s shares falling by 7.72 percent to SR26.90.    

The share prices of Almuneef Co. for Trade, Industry, Agriculture and Contracting as well as Riyadh Steel Co. also fell by 7.68 percent and 6.25 percent to stand at SR51.70 and SR30, respectively.  

Other major losers include Molan Steel Co. and Mayar Holding Co.