Saudi Arabia unofficially began issuing visas for people at the start of Jeddah Season back in June. Anyone who purchased a ticket to attend any of the festival's events was granted a visa within three minutes. The month-long festival, which from its name you can infer its location, came to an end with a massive music show as some of the biggest names in the industry took the stage.
Jeddah even saw the temporary opening of WHITE, one of the most popular nightclubs in Dubai, during the summer in the form of a lounge. Though it faced some troubles, it marked the beginning of a new era for the conservative kingdom.
Much of the entertainment hype has been taking place in Jeddah, which is often described as the more lax city in Saudi Arabia. But, that doesn't mean the fun offerings are limited to this one city.
First Jeddah Season, Now Riyadh Season
Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the Board of the General Entertainment Authority and the chairman of Riyadh Season, officially launched the countdown to the start of the two-month festival last week.
Riyadh Season, which will run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15, will cover 12 main zones of the capital and six branches around the city. The theme of the event is "Imagine," which is quite fitting considering the unimaginable is coming true.
You have the well-known South Korean boy band BTS taking the stage for the first time in the kingdom on Oct. 11 at the King Fahd International Stadium. The band explained that they were "officially invited" and that it's been a while since "we've performed in the Middle East - I guess the last time was 2015 in Dubai." You have Nancy Ajram and Tamer Hosny taking the stage on Oct. 18 as part of the festival as well.
Riyadh Season will witness more than 100 events and activities over the course of two months. One such event is something that's been dubbed "Saudi Arabia's largest parade," which is expected to see 1,500 costumed participated take part.
At the end of October, the kingdom will host the WWE Crown Jewel on the 31st as part of Saudi Arabia's 10-year deal with the entertainment brand. The 2018 deal has given the kingdom the chance to host several matches including Royal Rumble, Tag Team and Raw Title. It's also given the country the opportunity to host some of the world's most popular wrestlers.
The 12 zones to be covered as part of the festival's events and activities are:
- Riyadh Boulevard
- Riyadh Front
- Riyadh Car Exhibition
- Riyadh Winter Wonderland
- Riyadh Sports Arenas
- Diplomatic Quarters
- Wadi Namar
- Riyadh Beat
- Riyadh Safari
- Riyadh Sahara
Each zone will offer a different form of entertainment. For example, Riyadh Boulevard will screen the latest movies in an open-air cinema starting Oct. 17. The very same venue will be used to host some of the concerts taking place as part of the festival. The Riyadh Front, on the other hand, 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 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 travelers. For starters, unmarried foreign couples can now book a shared hotel room without presenting proof of marriage beforehand. Female travelers to the kingdom are also no longer required to wear the once-mandatory abaya while roaming the streets, but still need to wear "modest clothing."