Even before its official launch, Saudi Arabia's Riyadh Season proved to be a smashing success.
The festival officially launched on Thursday but some of its events opened prior to that in two of 12 regions earlier this week. According to Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the Board of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), more than 250,000 visitors attended the events that took place three days before the opening parade.
In that span of time, the festival's events brought in a whopping 235 million riyals (nearly $62 million) in sales.
"About 80 percent of the visitors were Saudis while 10 percent from the Gulf, including 11 Qataris, and the rest from other countries of the world," he explained.
The official also revealed that the festival achieved the "largest return in sponsorship as well as from joint-stock companies in the kingdom's history by more than 400 million riyals."
Riyadh Season seems to be contributing to the country's plan to boost the entertainment and tourism sectors. In a statement, Al-Sheikh said that the festival has positively affected occupancy rates in Riyadh hotels.
"The occupancy rate of hotels reached 98 percent and sales of train booking in the Riyadh — Dammam sector 40 percent,” he revealed.
The grand event has also provided major employment opportunities for young Saudis. According to Saudi Gazette, the season employs around 24,000 people in seasonal jobs and provides and hires over 22,000 paid volunteers.
Riyadh Season at a glance
The event is set to run until Dec. 15 and will cover 12 main zones of the capital and six branches around the city.
Each zone will offer a different form of entertainment.
The Riyadh Front, for example, is expected to be the season's largest exhibition area. It will host different events including ComicCon and Cirque du Soleil — both of which have taken in place in Saudi Arabia before. The former had taken place in Jeddah for the first time in 2017, while the latter took place in Riyadh last year.
The theme of the two-month-long festival is "Imagine," which is quite fitting as the unimaginable is coming true in the kingdom. Riyadh Season will witness more than 100 events and activities over the course of two months.
Riyadh Season's events are part of the Saudi Seasons 2019 initiative, which was first launched in February. A total of 11 local seasons have been brought forth in a bid to attract travelers to the kingdom.
Under the ambitious Vision 2030, the kingdom has been gradually driving its efforts away from oil-rich profits and putting forth a more diverse economic strategy. In recent months, the nation has been investing heavily in several non-oil sectors and its efforts have not gone unnoticed in the tourism industry.
Among the key goals under Vision 2030 is to increase the number of tourists who visit Saudi Arabia and the revenues generated from the sector to 18 percent in the next 14 years, with a particular focus on leisure tourism aside from its religious counterpart.
Back in September, Saudi Arabia rolled out tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries for the first time ever. The kingdom also loosened its legislative restrictions on tourists in hopes of attracting more visitors.