While Saudi Arabia's bold reforms are hitting headlines across the world, at home the new-to-the-nation entertainment, sports and social events are drawing enthusiastic crowds in thousands in major Saudi cities.
The transition in the entertainment sector is exemplified by the stupendous success of the first Riyadh Season.
The biggest of Saudi Season programmes, the Riyadh Season was launched on October 11 under the theme ‘Imagine’ and was expected to end by December 15. But now, it will run till the end of January 2020, following directions from HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The Seasons programme aims to develop Saudi Arabia as a main global tourism destination, building on the success of the entertainment sector as a component with the national economy.
The numbers tell the story – more than 10 million people, twice the projected footfall of five million, have enjoyed the various events held under Riyadh Season already.
The Season, though largely attracting residents, is a bonus for the global tourist who would like to explore the new-found-land in the Arabian desert
TTN was recently invited to savour the delights of the season that spans an area of 14 million sq m featuring 12 zones divided into six main zones and six branches which include: Riyadh Boulevard; Riyadh Front; Riyadh Car Exhibition; Riyadh WinterWonderLand; Riyadh Sports Arenas; Diplomatic Quarters; AlMuraba’a; AlMalaz; Wadi Namar; Riyadh Beat; Riyadh Safari and Riyadh Desert. More than 500 events are planned to be hosted as part of the Season.
Our first stop was the Riyadh Boulevard, a new and lively district in the Saudi capital. Spread over 400,000 sq m, the Boulevard zone features several activities for all age ranges, including an outdoor cinema; a number of sports, music and entertainment activities; and a variety of restaurants and shops. The Boulevard also includes three theatres.
The sea of cars parked around the area indicated that the destination is a huge draw. As we made our way through the continuous flow of visitors, there was palpable enthusiasm among the crowd. They were surely soaking in the breath of fresh air pervading through the Boulevard. The young, expressive visitors shouted, cheered and enjoyed their day out.
At one of the theatres, Al Hilal Club was celebrating its success in the Asian Championship and more than 40,000 fans thronged the arena. The enthusiasm around was exhilarating and contagious.
Firework displays and a music fountain on a specially created lagoon provided continuous entertainment to visitors.
Wadi Namar is another hugely popular destination of Riyadh Season. Spanning 65,000 sq m, Wadi Namar includes some of the most beautiful parks in the capital. Characterised by its quiet environment, it features spellbinding aesthetic spaces, an artificial lake, and a promenade.
More than 100 km from the centre of the city is the Season’s another big draw, especially for families – Riyadh Safari. Visitors are taken in special vehicles to watch exotic wild animals brought from all around the world. Officials insisted that the animals are well looked after.
In yet another part of the city is Riyadh Winter Wonderland, a temporary winter park that is twice as large as the famous Wonderland Park in London. It includes the largest skating rink in the Middle East, several games, competitions, and performances.
Meanwhile, MDL Beast, the largest music, arts and culture festival in Saudi Arabia held from December 19 to 22 as part of the Riyadh Season, welcomed more than 150,000 fans from across the region and further afield. Performing at the first ever multi-stage music festival in Riyadh were global music superstars plus local talent.
Riyadh Season is organised by the General Entertainment Authority in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, General Sports Authority, Ministry of Culture, Riyadh Principality, Riyadh Municipality, General Culture Authority, and Riyadh Chamber of Commerce.
The Season, though largely attracting residents, is a bonus for the global tourist who would like to explore the new-found-land in the Arabian desert that offers history, heritage, culture and shopping at their best.
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