25 JAN 2019: Who says Saudi Arabia isn’t a fun place? Certainly not the Saudis themselves, as evidenced by the government’s plans to transform the Kingdom into “a global entertainment destination,” complete with NBA games, celebrity wax figure exhibits, and bull-riding demonstrations.  

Staggering!

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced this week in Riyadh that 2019 marks the start of a new phase for its entertainment sector with a “staggering number of projects and events lined up,” including live performances, international exhibitions, Ramadan competitions, and e-gaming events.

The new strategy will see leading entertainment firms partner with the GEA to launch various projects, including constructing theatres and staging exhibitions, interactive presentations and shows, such as a visit by Madame Tussauds wax museum to the Saudi capital Riyadh and the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

There are also plans for a Saudi version of reality television show “The Voice” and professional bull riding exhibitions, while negotiations are underway to host a National Basketball Association (NBA) game.

At the same time, the GEA debuted a new brand identity for the related events platform, “Enjoy Saudi,” which will serve as “information central” for all entertainment, cultural and sporting events in the Kingdom and accessible via an app for mobile devices that will allow easy access to all event information.

There are ... well ... issues

While the developments will presumably prove welcome news to Saudi citizens, it is less clear whether international visitors will be enthused.

Despite apparent support from Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia has become an international pariah over human rights issues and specifically over the brazen killing of prominent journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October – a murder that was allegedly ordered by Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, though the claim was denied by Saudi authorities who blamed a “rogue operation” for the incident.

Count us out

Canada has been particularly vocal about Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights abuses, prompting a full-fledged diplomatic rift between the countries.

At the same time, this nation’s department of foreign affairs says travellers should exercise a high degree of caution when travelling there, particularly near the border with Yemen where Saudi Arabia has been leading an international coalition since 2015 in an intervention to influence to the outcome of the Yemeni civil war.

Confident? Really?

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is confident that its ambitious new entertainment strategy will position the Kingdom among the top four entertainment destinations in the Asian region and the top 10 globally.

“The entertainment sector is an important sector, and the Saudi leadership takes every interest to ensure it fulfils the objectives of enhancing the quality of life in the Kingdom, effectively contributing to the economy and creating jobs,” said GEA chairman Turki bin Abdulmohsen Al Sheikh, who noted that Saudi banks, financial companies, businessmen, and government entities are being tapped up to contribute to the plan, which falls under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future.

Not a definite maybe

For their part, critics will hope that the plan continues some of the Kingdom’s baby steps to meeting modern international standards and is more than simply a strategy based on the notion that “coloured lights can hypnotize.”

 

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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