Saudis Draw on Cirque du Soleil Talent for Entertainment

Saudi Arabia’s new entertainment agency has brought Cirque du Soleil inside its tent.

As the kingdom tries to expand its tourism offerings, the government’s council of ministers has approved board members for the new General Entertainment Authority, said a news release yesterday.

Among the board members are Jonathan Tétrault, the executive vice-president and chief operating officer at Cirque du Soleil.

Also approved was Joe Zenas, the chief executive at Thinkwell, a US theme park designer whose resume includes work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Cirque du Soleil shows are a popular fixture on the Dubai entertainment calendar. And next year the Montreal-based circus is expected to perform in Saudi Arabia, reported Arab News.

California-based Thinkwell was behind the concept design of Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates and was involved in the design packages for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s Expo 2020 winning bid.

“We are particularly delighted to welcome international experts who will further help us in our aim of both developing and investing into the burgeoning Saudi entertainment industry,” said Ahmed Aqeel Al Khateeb, the chairman of the board of the entertainment authority, which was created in May. “We have made progress in recent months and there will be much more delivery over the next year.”

Other members of the board include Majid Abdullah Al Qasabi, the kingdom’s minister of trade and investment; Lama Abdulaziz AlSulaiman, a former vice chair and board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce; and Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, the chairman and chief executive of the Jeddah-based conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel.

The Saudi entertainment authority has helped bring live performances to the country and expects to organise Saudi Arabia’s first Comic Con in February. Other Arabian Gulf countries such as the UAE have gained popularity among Saudi tourists as a holiday destination thanks to their shopping and leisure facilities.

In Dubai, Saudi Arabia was the second largest source market for tourists after India in the first 10 months with 1.36 million visitors, a rise of 4 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to Dubai Tourism.

The Saudi tourism industry is heavily dependent on religious tourism for Haj and Umrah and while there has been a proliferation of the hotel sector in the country, it has been largely concentrated in Mecca and Medina.

In July, though, Riyadh-based Al Othaim Leisure and Tourism Company opened Snow City in the Saudi capital. US company Six Flags Entertainment Corporation said is in talks with Saudi Arabia to build three theme parks in the country, with the first one by 2021, according to Reuters.

The low oil price for the past couple of years has taken a toll on its non-oil economy but consumers began to regain confidence in the fourth quarter. “Consumer confidence is showing signs of recovery, following lull in the second and the third quarters,” said Nayal Khan, the head of institutional equities sales at Saudi Fransi Capital in Riyadh.

The Saudi government’s Vision 2030 includes plans to expand the non-oil economy, including tourism.