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Saudi Arabia 2020 | ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

GEA is working with investors and regulators to expand cultural offerings in the Kingdom.

Amr A Banaja
BIOGRAPHY
Amr A Banaja was appointed CEO of GEA in August 2018. He previously worked at SEDCO Holding, a private wealth management organization. At SEDCO, Banaja started off as VP Marketing & Communication at the Real Estate division. Later, after serving as the group’s SVP for marketing and CSR, he became a member of the board of directors. Previously, he worked in various marketing roles with several companies including Unilever, Gillette, Kodak, and NCB. Banaja holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Boston College.

How has the approach of GEA advanced in 2019?

Today, we are simply putting more focus on the entertainment sector. The entertainment offering has always been a wide one across multiple categories, and the first few years have proven that these offerings are in high demand. Under our new leadership, we have more support to expand our plans and fast track many of our initiatives. One of the most vital developments was the establishment of the Saudi Seasons, a new calendar concept led by a new committee directly under the Crown Prince. Across the Kingdom, for all provinces, we have aligned the entertainment agenda in terms of these seasons to better align all events, taking into consideration our climate conditions and cultural agenda. This organizes internal tourism and will attract tourists from abroad. Additionally, we will fill these seasons with cultural, entertainment, and sporting events to create a better quality of life in the Kingdom by spreading joy and creating a vibrant society.

How does this seasonal approach call for more alignment among all the cultural authorities?

With anything that is new, coordination will get better over time. For example, the National Day was a well-coordinated effort across multiple authorities. Now with the creation of Seasons, different committees are focused on different aspects, such as culture, entertainment, sporting, and tourism. This allows us to adopt a holistic approach and adds a lot of demand for creating events and activities that attract tourism, both locally and internationally. We are working now to make sure we program the Seasons well in terms of location, time, and audience. We also take international occasions into consideration and aim to create events that are relevant to a global audience.

Will the authority slowly phase out of its role as a funder and become a regulator?

The funding initiative is currently housed under GEA since no other mandate exists for it. However, a new entity will take over this role in the future. The infrastructure will be expanded to accommodate different SME funding models. That said, we invite banks and other financial institutions to invest in entertainment, including the entire chain of private equity and private capital. In the recent years, we have proven there is demand, and now we have to prove there is a financial reward. We will then witness more funding vehicles that want to contribute. Subsidies are going to ease eventually, and it will become more sustainable through creating the right infrastructure. For example, we currently lack dedicated venues and are thus relying on existing ones such as universities, public spaces, lands, and so on. We are working to create a platform that includes a database of all available venues so we can match them with the relevant event organizers.

What are your main priorities going forward?

First and foremost, we will continue to align ourselves with other government entities to take a holistic view on developing the entertainment economy. The concept of seasons is also a priority that we are expanding. Tourism, culture, entertainment, and sport go hand-in-hand and will all contribute their share to the improvement of the quality of life in Saudi Arabia. Developing local content and infrastructure to facilitate growth is another strategic priority. The sector needs more local talent, and we recently organized a competition to source the available talents and train them. In more practical terms, we want to streamline our licensing process, so it becomes simpler for companies to get the necessary licensing for events. We are working on setting quality standards, developing a protocol for live events, and launching theme parks. In terms of local content, we are striving to export our own intellectual property and commercialize our offerings internationally.