Saudi Arabia to host '600 per cent' more music events from 2022

Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud says music is the beating heart of the kingdom’s tourism strategy

More music concerts and festivals, such as December's Soundstorm 2021, are planned as part of Saudi Arabia's tourism strategy. Photo: MDLBeast
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Music events in Saudi Arabia will rise by up to 600 per cent from 2019, according to the kingdom’s Assistant Minister for Tourism, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud.

The royal made the comments at the XP Music Conference, a three-day event featuring discussions on Saudi Arabia’s live events sector, held at the Unesco heritage district of Ad Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh.

Princess Haifa said music’s growing role in Saudi Arabia’s tourism strategy is in line with international trends faced by the industry for more than a decade.

"People used to travel for nature, and then they started to travel for culture and now it’s about lifestyle.

“It's about meeting other like-minded people from across the globe and sharing what they are passionate about. The creative industries, such as music, is at the very heart of that,” she said.

“You are talking about 25 per cent of the UK and US population, pre Covid-19, of course, travelling to attend at least one music festival a year.

“This tells you where the world is shifting and where it is growing. So where we had 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, before the pandemic, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600 per cent from 2022 on.”

The show is on the road

That push is already under way with the launch of Riyadh Season in October.

Held across various districts in the Saudi capital, up to 70 concerts are planned for the festival alone, which runs until March 2022.

Stars who have already performed during Riyadh Season are pop stars Pitbull, who played in front of 750,000 people as part of the opening ceremony, Bollywood star Salman Khan and Egyptian pop stars Mohamed Ramadan and Tamer Hosny in November and this month, respectively.

Saudi Arabia’s move to embed music with large-scale festivals and events wasn’t part of the initial plan, Princess Haifa revealed.

She recalled seeing the potential during the 2018 Ad Diriyah ePrix Formula E championship, held at the Riyadh Street Circuit.

As secretary-general of Formula E Holdings at the time, she was in charge of organising the championship first race in Mena.

The weekend also featured a programme of evening concerts by DJ David Guetta, pop star Enrique Iglesias and groups One Republic and Black Eyed Peas.

With more than 60,000 people in attendance at each concert, Princess Haifa said the success of the concerts pointed a new way forward for the kingdom’s tourism industry.

"That event made us realise that there is an appetite both locally and internationally to experience Saudi Arabia and for Saudis to experience their own country," she said.

"We didn't have a visa at the time, so we didn't technically have tourism. We just had religious tourism. So this is where it came about to create a national tourism strategy and create the eVisa.”

The Formula E event also helped place Riyadh on the concert map.

With Guetta returning to the city a year later to perform at the mega dance festival MDLBeast, the Frenchman went on to become an official dance music ambassador for the kingdom’s burgeoning music scene.

As he told The National in a 2019 interview: “It was incredible to see men and women dancing and letting go of everything, I felt like I was part of history. It was a great honour for me to be part of this.”

As part of her conference address, Princess Haifa recalled meeting a nervous Guetta moments before his Formula E performance.

"He asked if people would know his music,” she said.

“He was backstage and he didn’t see what was going on. So when he went on stage, he was absolutely shocked to see over 60,000 in the crowd chanting the songs before he even dropped the beat.”

A more organic music industry is being planned

Speaking about the kingdom's large-scale music events – from the Formula E concerts in Riyadh and after-race concerts at the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in Jeddah in December, to the series of seasonal festivals spanning the country across the year – Princess Haifa says she is aware the music scene is being "supercharged" by government bodies such as the General Entertainment Authority.

Once the industry has matured, she envisages a time where the live events sector will largely comprise of concerts and festivals initiated by the private sector and Saudi creative communities.

"Because we are kick-starting and opening something that is an absolutely green field, there are a lot of regulatory reforms that need to accompany all these developing industries," she said.

"So this is why the government is playing a more proactive role at present while [understanding] there is a need for organic growth. I think we are doing that in parallel, in that we are intervening in the areas that are really large, in order to test what issues are there and what solutions are needed to be set forth from a regulatory perspective.

“That way, we can really enhance and enable that organic growth, with private sector contribution and talent entering the market in the right form."

Updated: December 14, 2021, 11:31 AM