Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has published a report which showcases a post-pandemic boost in local demand for culture as new events, policies, and initiatives drive consumption across burgeoning sectors such as the arts, film, and theatre.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia witnessed a rapid increase in demand for cultural activities in 2021 according to “The Report on the State of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2021: Culture in Public Spaces”, published in August by the Saudi Ministry of Culture.

A major reason for the growth are the sweeping reforms in society in the last couple of years reflecting the progressive opening of the kingdom to new ways of life under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

The report is the result of collaboration between more than 150 partners and aims to provide an updated reference to assess the state of culture in the Kingdom, to directly enhance and advance the Saudi cultural sector.

One of the most significant indicators of the improvement is seen in the continued growth of domestic cultural tourism, which , in 2021, saw a 30% increase on 2020 levels. Amounting to 10.5 million trips during the first 10 months of 2021, this finding underlines a major rise in participation in cultural activities undertaken whilst traveling domestically.

Relaxation of pandemic rules and more events drive cultural tourism

The research identifies two major driving factors behind this growth: the lifting of pandemic restrictions on open spaces such as heritage and archaeological sites and the general increase in cultural activities and experiences now available in the Kingdom.

The report also shows a consistent upward trend in demand for cultural activities, with domestic cultural tourism seeing annual growth rates of 4.5% between 2017 and 2021.

Attendance rates across other cultural sectors also showed signs of recovery. Most significantly, the growth in cinema ticket sales rose 85% between 2020 and 2021 and the rate of those who attended a music concert at least once rose by 12.5% in the same period, while similar trends of recovery could also be seen in attendance at art exhibitions and in-person theatrical performances.

Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al Farhan, Minister of Culture (Photo: official portrait, Ministry of Culture, Saudi Arabia)

Reflecting on the findings of the report, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi’s Minister of Culture, said: “The Kingdom is undergoing an unprecedented cultural transformation and 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.

“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.”

The report also showcases the diversity of support available to nurture a thriving cultural sector, including grants and support funds, art and literary residencies, cultural competitions, business accelerators and specialized educational programs.

Supporting ‘Vision 2030’ goals

Alongside this, the report also underscores progress of the organisational developments of culture in Saudi Arabia, such as improvements to the regulatory environment aimed at raising the organisational and professional levels of the cultural sector.

The Kingdom’s National Culture Strategy, launched in 2019, is transforming Saudi Arabia by aiding local cultural innovation while preserving its rich heritage and culture. From diverse support programs such as the Young Adult Literature Accelerator and the Fashion Incubator, to the ambitious strategies launched by each of the 11 sector-specific Commissions, the Strategy is at the forefront of the Kingdom’s cultural renaissance. 

A more thriving society is seen also as an asset to promote Saudi Arabia as a destination abroad. Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved on August 23 a new tourism law to boost the competitiveness of the tourism sector, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb said the newly approved law comes in the line with the goals of Vision 2030 which forecasts 100 million tourists by that year. In 2019, Saudi Arabia registered 19.85 million foreign visitors, including 1.85 million pilgrims for Hajj.

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