Domestic travel in Saudi Arabia up 30% as government's cultural vision boosts tourism

New data links growth to increased museums, art facilities, cinemas and leisure activities across the country

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More than 10.5 million Saudis travelled to cultural sites within the kingdom in the first 10 months of 2021, marking a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

The data was revealed by the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in a report, which assesses the growth of cultural activities within the country.

According to State of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2021: Culture in Public Spaces, between 2017 and 2021, domestic cultural tourism grew by 4.5 per cent annually. The lifting of Covid-19 restrictions on open spaces, such as heritage and archaeological sites, and the general increase in cultural activities and experiences, were key drivers of the growth, it said.

Additionally, there were six important archaeological discoveries and 23 archaeological survey projects announced in 2021.

The entertainment industry, which includes concerts, cinemas, museums, art exhibitions and theatre performances among others, has also enjoyed a boost in sales, the report said.

Film ticket sales generated more than $54.8 million in 2021, marking an 85 per cent increase from sales in 2020. The number of people who attended musical concerts also rose by 12.5 per cent in 2021, compared to the previous year.

Actor Ed Westwick with Red Sea International Film Festival chairman Mohammed Al Turki at the event in December 2021. AP

The 'Asir Province, in the country's south-west, attracted the highest level of domestic travel. Popular activities include visits to museums and exhibitions.

New entities specialising in fashion, museums and music were established by the ministry while "the geographic coverage of their work expanded", the report said.

“The kingdom is undergoing an unprecedented cultural transformation, which is continuing to gather pace. We have built an environment that enables creatives to flourish; proud of their shared history while eager to embrace their future," said Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah.

Revellers dance at the MDL Beast Soundstorm music festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2021. Bloomberg

“The findings of this report show that the pandemic has not hindered this transformation or Saudi’s growing interest in and appreciation of culture. Key indicators not only illustrate that our cultural sector is growing at a remarkable rate, but that more opportunities are being created for local people to engage with culture and pursue careers in the creative industries like never before.”

Diverse government initiatives, policies and decrees have started transforming the cultural sector into a fertile environment for creativity and development, Prince Badr said.

Launched in 2019, the National Culture Strategy aims to transform Saudi Arabia through cultural innovation and a variety of programmes, such as the Young Adult Literature Accelerator and the Fashion Incubator.

There are now 304 museums, 262 theatres, 85 public libraries, 75 art galleries, 20 literary coffee shops and 54 cinemas across Saudi Arabia, the report said.

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Updated: August 25, 2022, 2:49 PM