Joint ventures and partnerships will be key for international brands

As the whole world looks at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, different opinions and predictions emerge. There are skeptics, passive spectators, and positive enthusiasts. Our internal look as Saudi Brand custodians paints a picture that most miss.

2024 is the year of assertiveness. The year where all the aggregate efforts of every sector start yielding providing a solid foundation for the homegrown and the homemade.

The Kingdom has for many years been the biggest market in the MENA region. It was a volume play driven by the size of the population; a high purchasing power mixed with dynamic consumerism. Consequently, international brands were thriving and expanding. 

I started my career in the Middle East at PepsiCo in 2006. Back then, Saudi Arabia was not only the biggest market in our multibillion-dollar region but most importantly, it was a significant bottom-line contributor to the global company profit.

I also led KFC marketing where most of my brand consumption was in the kingdom. Most of my trips were to the kingdom and most of my innovation efforts were dedicated to satisfying the Saudi palette.

All this was perfectly stable until Vision 2030, a well-spelled out ambition that soon became the most empowering tool and the loudest nationalistic rally cry.

The Saudi youth is bubbling. They now have every reason to stay in the kingdom and explore its wonders thanks to the tremendous efforts made by the Ministry of Tourism and the General Entertainment Authority.

There is a clear proliferation of choice in entertainment, cultural events, sports tournaments as well as festivals. The Saudi calendar is so big that I could not fit it in one page when I was preparing my 2024 business plan.

The Saudi leadership is hungrier for achievement than ever, and the Saudi funds are made available to any viable business that positively contributes back to the Saudi culture and economy. Every sector that is growing represents tremendous opportunities for homegrown businesses and brands. We are seeing the emergence of fashion brands that have turned people’s heads such as The House of Honayda. 

The latter’s creations left the world in awe at the Jordanian Royal wedding of H.R.H Prince Hussein bin Abdullah. The founder & designer of this fashion brand soon made it to the Forbes list of 50 Women behind Middle Eastern Brands in 2023. Her creations have since made the buzz on Film Festivals red carpets and numerous notable events.

The story of Honayda repeats itself in Saudi Arabia every single day. The stage has been set for the Saudi youth to shine and the only determining factor in the success of the homegrown brands is talent.

What the external world does not realize is that the Saudi youth is well educated and very talented. Vision 2030 was the lynchpin, but the foundation has been in the making for many years. 

Empowerment is the key word here. With the current drive, Saudis are unstoppable. Most importantly women are unstoppable. They are biting at every single opportunity to grow and drive impact. They advance with a high sense of pride and assertiveness.

My best domestic trip in Saudi was planned and executed by a local DMC called Mezwalah. The latter was founded by two investment bankers ,Shahad & Manar,  who quit their day jobs to contribute to and benefit from the tourism sector growth.

Previously, homegrown brands reflected the active and powerful sectors: Petroleum, Banking, and Consumer goods. Who hasn’t heard of Aramco, AlRajhi, Al Marai, or Al Baik?

Similarly, the new brands reflect the new sectors of focus: Tourism, Sports, Culture & Entertainment.

We are also witnessing an increasing focus on sustainability. The first Saudi electric car is already in circulation, and it is ahead of its global competitors. All these new sectors combined will continue to give a push to consumerism which will dynamize other sectors/categories such as F&B, Fashion & Services to name a few.

International brands will continue to grow given the new domestic dynamics encouraging tourism and consumption inland. However, Saudi home-grown brands will grow faster. They will enlarge the pie and eat up significantly from it.

The key to success is being close to the market and adjust to its high and dynamic movement. Joint Ventures and Partnerships will be key for many international brands.

The big picture is more important than ever, and global brands should not compete blindly.

They should expand and enlarge taking into consideration that Saudis are gearing up to start their own their government is encouraging and empowering them to do so.

By Asmaa Quorrich, CMO Saudi Tourism Authority