WHAT’S ON

Saudi Arabia 2020 | ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE & SPORTS | FOCUS

A series of themed festivals and a host of incentives such as new visa policies are promoting Saudi Arabia's tourism sector in 2019.

The year 2019 saw the launch of an unprecedented initiative in Saudi Arabia that is expected to liven up the country's tourism ecosystem. The Saudi Seasons 2019 initiative was designed in 2018, with several departments working on it, including a high committee chaired by Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

According to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), the epic initiative includes 11 tourism seasons that will be celebrated across the Kingdom throughout 2019.

In resonance with the spirit of the Saudi Vision 2030 and the social reforms currently in progress, the organizers of the plan have tried to emphasize the Kingdom's cultural diversity, historical attractions, and natural splendor—and, in general, those features of Saudi Arabia that have not been introduced to the world so far in a befitting manner. In addition to its impact on the Kingdom's brand and image, the 11 festivals will create new points of attraction to draw local and international tourists, while creating temporary and permanent jobs for the youth.

Some of the seasons will focus on a specific geographical region such as the Eastern Region Season, Jeddah Season, Ta'if Season, Riyadh Season, Diriyah Season, AlUla Season and Ha'il Season, while others celebrate a particular Islamic or national day in the calendar, including Ramadan Season, Eid Al Fitr Season, Eid Al Adha Season, and the National Day Season.
In mid-March, the series of festivals took off with the Eastern Region Season, featuring over 80 individual events in Dammam and other cities of the province. The events ranged from those more highbrow in nature such as the exhibition of sketches attributed to Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, to more popular attractions such as fireworks displays.

According to SCTH, tickets for the 11 festivals can be booked on a single digital platform. To encourage foreign visitors, meanwhile, a new category of “event visit" visa was introduced, allowing citizens of certain countries to visit Saudi Arabia more easily, provided that they first arrive in the region hosting the festival. The Eastern Region festival was followed by the Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr seasons between May and June, which were more spiritual in nature, though they included elements of entertainment and recreational activities.

Next in the series was the epic Jeddah Season, which, starting in early June, ran for no fewer than 40 days and included 94 separate events that appealed to a diverse mix of visitors. Given Jeddah's history as a port city, some activities were organized around the city's maritime culture and water sports.

With festival seasons for Ta'if and Al-Soudah commencing in midsummer and emphasizing the regions' nature, adventure, and traditions, it seems that the initiative has succeeded in creating a tourism movement across different parts of the Kingdom.
On the sidelines of the festivals, other sectors such as entertainment, sports, and even business will have an opportunity to flourish. The good performance of the transportation and hospitality sectors, in particular, is essential to creating the right experience for visitors. If the Saudi Seasons 2019 initiative is met with success and the ideal infrastructure preparedness for the next editions is accomplished, chances are that the initiative will live on, though the final decision for the 2020 edition will be made by the end of 2019.