The power of experiences in Saudi Arabia

The impact of the experience economy extends beyond tourism, writes Imagination Middle East’s Adel Noueihed

Image Credit: Imagination

The ‘experience economy’ recognises experience as a potent economic output capable of profoundly shaping nations. Experiences offer the potential to not only drive GDP growth but also foster dialogue, expedite cultural exchange, and enhance value. The cities and nations that champion this principle will witness are markable multiplier effect.

At the forefront of this movement stands Saudi Arabia, poised to become the fastest-growing economy this year. In recent years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun to recognise the benefits of the experience economy – and has simplified the tourism visa process to increase both interest and access.

Considering the World Travel and Tourism Council’s findings that the tourism industry accounts for one in five jobs globally, this will be a huge contributor towards achieving some of the country’s Vision 2030 goals to make it a leading job creator in the region. That is why the Saudi Tourism Authority called tourism ‘the new oil’.

The increase in access to the Kingdom will also naturally generate a larger appetite for guest experiences. Investment in experiences will correct some preconceptions of the nation. For example, the hosting of major sporting events will enable potential visitors to preview the rich offerings of the Kingdom, and form new connections with audiences through transformative experiences.

Not only for the guests, but also for the hosts. The recent signing of Cristiano Ronaldo to play for Saudi club Al-Nasr and Lionel Messi as a brand ambassador for Saudi Tourism are examples of how sports stars can influence global perceptions.

These events allow experiences to be created that will be remembered in ‘where were you?’ moments. Memories that can transcend time. By making the most of these opportunities, Saudi Arabia will have the platform to diversify its economy from a carbon economy to a lucrative experience-driven one.

However, experiences don’t always need to be global displays. In fact, multiple experiential touch points will be needed to truly rival oil’s stake in the economy.

The new airport in Riyadh is a prime example of this in action – creating a new gateway experience that will form the first impression for all new visitors as well as transit passengers who will be able to connect to the wider experience eco-system. The recently announced New Murabba Development is expected to transform Riyadh by reimagining what a new downtown district is.

It is experientially lead with advanced technology creating immersive worlds where visitors will find it difficult to distinguish between the physical and digital manifestations of the ‘real’. At Imagination, we call this type of project ‘experience infrastructure’.

‘‘The increase in access to the Kingdom will also naturally generate a larger appetite for guest experiences”

However, the impact of the experience economy extends beyond tourism. In a post-Covid world, immersive entertainment events have become increasingly vital for captivating new audiences as people seek to revive their social gatherings.

There is a real opportunity for brands to harness this sentiment. FOMO moments, limited editions, pop-ups – where people feel they must attend – or even permanent, bespoke destinations curated around a shared passion for experiences.

Look at Al Ula too. By unlocking the vast historical heart of Saudi Arabia’s ancient heritage via flagship cultural experiences, the Kingdom can create profound transformative journeys which create memories to last a lifetime. Far more than any souvenir could achieve.

Monumental moments can now be recorded, shared, and amplified globally, almost instantly. Individuals are far more likely to share or reshare an experience than they are a possession. The team at Miral, led by Mohammed Al Zaabi recognise this as they transform Yas and Saadiyat Islands into experiential playgrounds for tourists to explore.

Think Neom – an experience reimagined. One that hasn’t even fully begun yet but is already being discussed globally. It promises to be by far the most transformative experience potentially anywhere in the world, helping to put Saudi Arabia on the map rethinking what the future of living will be.

It is crucial not to overlook the profound influence that experiences have on the public’s well-being. Recognising this, Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Programme has allocated a dedicated project to delve into how the variety and excellence of experiences can enhance the quality of life for its citizens. It has also begun investing in experiential programmes that directly impact the lives of its people.

Qiddya is a prime example of how experiences have been used to enhance the quality of life for citizens.The entertainment gigaproject located on the outskirts of Riyadh will reimagine the future of leisure and entertainment experiences, creating huge domestic and international visitor spend. No longer will Saudi nationals need to travel for world-class amusement parks and live entertainment.

They will have it on their doorstep. Saudi Arabia is making a huge and important effort to establish new markets and economies in order to diversify away from oil. Its efforts will open up a whole new world of opportunities for the Kingdom’s citizens and guests, while giving the rest of the world access to some of the most thrilling experiences.

By Adel Noueihed, Regional Managing Director, Imagination Middle East