Tuesday 10 December 2019

Vue International to bring screens to Saudi Arabia after 35-year cinema ban ends

Vue expects the first cinema to open its doors in Saudi Arabia as early as this year.

Vue International has announced Middle East expansion plans (PA)
Vue International has announced Middle East expansion plans (PA)

By Kalyeena Makortoff, Press Association City Correspondent

Vue International is making its first foray into the Middle East just months after Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year ban on commercial cinemas.

The company has paired up with Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Holding Group – best known for constructing and operating a raft of leisure and hospitality centres – to launch 30 multiplex cinemas across the country over the next three years.

The proposed joint venture will see Vue establish cinemas in some of Al Hokair’s existing sites as well as new developments – with the first cinema expected to open its doors as early as this year.

The Saudi Arabian firm currently owns and operates three shopping centres, 79 entertainment centres and 45 hotels in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt.

We are delighted to have been chosen to lead in the development of world-class cinemas and the big screen experience in Saudi Arabia
Tim Richards, Vue International founder & CEO

The partnership is the result of a number of high-level meetings since October last year, when Vue was the only operator to be invited to the Future Investment Initiative summit and subsequent discussions in Riyadh.

Vue International founder and chief executive Tim Richards said it was a “huge moment in the history of global cinema development”.

He added: “Cinema has been an exciting form of out-of-home entertainment for over 100 years and the opening up of the Kingdom is testament to the industry’s continuing growth and resilience.

“We are delighted to have been chosen to lead in the development of world-class cinemas and the big screen experience in Saudi Arabia.

“Our combined experience is world-class and we have some incredible plans in place and are excited about what lies ahead.”

Vue – which is owned by Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) and one of Canada’s largest pension funds OMERS – said the full details of the joint venture will be agreed in the coming weeks.

Vue plans to open around 30 sites across Saudi Arabia over the next three years

Saudi Arabia announced late last year that it would allow cinemas to open in the kingdom starting in 2018, having been shut down during a wave of ultra-conservatism in the 1980s.

Though many of Saudi Arabia’s clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful, the move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to push through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman.

The crown prince is also behind initiatives including lifting a ban on women driving, as well as bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment.

The social push is part of “Vision 2030”, a blueprint for the country that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi government said it expected 300 cinemas and 2,000 screens to be open across the country by 2030, contributing more than 90 billion riyals (£17 billion) to the local economy.

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