Under Saudi Arabia's ambitious Vision 2030 plan, entertainment is a key sector to develop. Now Riyadh has announced a new multi-billion dollar investment to promote fun within the kingdom.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund plans to launch a new entertainment enterprise with an initial capitalization of $2.67 billion, according to Forbes Middle East. In addition to adding more fun opportunities for Saudis within their country, the company will also create some 22,000 jobs.
"By the end of 2030, the company's projects aim to serve more than 50 million visitors annually and create more than 22,000 jobs in the Kingdom, which will contribute around 8 billion Saudi Riyals ($2 billion) to the GDP," the Saudi Press Agency said.
Riyadh wants Saudis to spend more money in the kingdom
Currently, millions of Saudis travel abroad to find entertainment outside of the conservative kingdom.
According to CNN, about one million Saudis have visited Dubai alone for tourism so far in 2017. Officials in Riyadh would prefer more Saudis stay and spend money back home.
"At the moment, many Saudis head to the likes of Dubai, where there are a lot of entertainment complexes and more things to do," Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, told Arab News.
Already, the kingdom's General Authority for Entertainment has launched numerous initiatives in line with the goals laid out in Vision 2030.
Public concerts have been held in the kingdom for the first time in years. Mixed gender events – including Saudi Comic Con and a YouTube FanFest – have also taken place this year. And even public film screenings have happened, although there are still no official cinemas in the kingdom.
Major plans to boost tourism
In August, the kingdom also announced ambitious plans to transform a large portion of its Red Sea coast into a major tourist destination.
The "semi-autonomous" development will be governed by "independent laws," leading to wide speculation that the kingdom's traditional rules on dress and prohibition on alcohol will not be applied there.
Beyond potentially challenging the kingdom's conservative laws, the project will be truly massive, covering 34,000 square kilometers – including 50 islands. This means it will span an area bigger than the country of Belgium.
The project aims to transform Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastline into a global tourism hotspot, with luxury hotels and pristine beaches. Work on the project is expected to start within two years and it will be funded by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.
According to reports, the area will not require visas or will grant visas on arrival, making it easily accessible to travelers from around the world. It is also expected to add some $4 billion to the Saudi economy annually while creating 35,000 jobs.
Will Saudi Arabia be able to change?
Under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reforms and changes have been moving forward at a rapid pace.
While many traditional and conservative laws and practices may burden daily life for many, the Saudi leadership has signaled a clear desire to modernize the kingdom.
Opening up society to new entertainment options and opportunities is a significant step in Saudi Arabia's grand reform plans.