MENA’s thriving cultural scene drives demand for AV technology

Visitor attraction and cultural projects are booming in the MENA region, fuelling huge demand for multimedia and AV technologies and services.

The MENA region is the place to be for arts, culture and heritage, and visitor attraction projects right now. What it delivers in wow-factor (think Dubai’s Museum of the Future), it matches with culture (look no further than the Louvre Abu Dhabi).

Ahmed Naseef, business development director (GCC) for Holovis, says: “The Middle East is renowned for its spectacular events, entertainment, and themed attractions with massive projection mapping projects, immersive LED and audio installations, prestigious museums and galleries, and investment in cutting-edge AV services and technology.

 “SeaWorld Abu Dhabi - the franchise of SeaWorld Orlando with bigger and better attractions - is only days away from opening as the latest attraction in the GCC. KSA is very well in the race with the UAE by allocating massive budgets to develop the entertainment industry. Qatar has recently opened the first of its kind Qatar Olympic Sports Museum [pictured above] alongside the successful FIFA 2022.”

The continued addition of new attractions is well reported. It’s no secret that MENA states want to move their economies beyond a reliance on hydrocarbons and have been busy building some of the most ambitious, expensive and awe-inspiring attractions with something to meet every taste.

But behind those headlines there’s more going on. The aim is not just to woo global tourists, for many countries there’s a fresh drive to bring local populations face-to-face with their country’s heritage; provide growing, home-grown middle classes with attractions and entertainment to enjoy in their free time; and in some cases, introduce a previously sheltered population to new ideas.

Take the gargantuan Grand Egyptian Museum, slated for completion this year. A project of staggering scale built to house, preserve and display the country’s ancient treasures, its creation has been driven by a desire for Egypt to house artefacts from its history and boost tourism. But, those involved with creating the museum have made no secret that, while they want to attract a global audience, the museum is primarily for Egyptians with a goal for them to have pride in their ancient culture and a way to protect their heritage.

Speaking specifically about Saudi Arabia, Gavin Olivier, business development MEA at Kraftwerk Living Technologies (LT), says: “If you look at what they’re building, so much of it has a strong cultural underpinning and a lot of that is aimed at local people.”

Offering examples, Olivier says Mdlbeast, an entertainment company, runs music events that are mostly for local Saudi people; he also cites a recent Andy Warhol exhibition that brought the life and works of the American artist to a Saudi audience; and the Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah that championed contemporary and open-minded Islamic art.

“These endeavours are genuinely about exposing the Saudi people to exhibits and ideas that were not available before. This is a country trying to grow society and change worldviews,” Olivier adds.

While Olivier says ambitious high-profile projects like the Red Sea development and projects at the ancient city of AlUla are firmly focused on tourism and outside investment, there are loads of examples of projects that aren’t including Saudi Entertainment Ventures (SEVEN), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) that are building 21 entertainment complexes across the country. Each site will feature themed attractions, retail and food and beverage outlets.

“That’s overtly for the people. You don’t build that kind of facility in the smaller provinces for tourism,” he adds. Indeed SEVEN’s mandate is directly linked to Saudi Vision 2030 which aims to diversify the county’s economy and enrich the lives of Saudi citizens.

In much of MENA the organisations driving these projects (often the state or state-affiliated companies), strive to deliver the most ambitious projects in the world, and often are willing to invest huge sums. They are attracting international talent and companies with proven expertise.

Whilst that’s made MENA a target for international firms, Olivier argues that another driver for Saudi Arabia in particular, with many of these projects, is job creation and upliftment of the country’s people.

Saudi Arabia has a policy called Saudization that requires companies operating in the country to employ specific levels of Saudi nationals. “They’re not just dishing out cash to the world to come and build cool projects, they’re clearly saying ‘some of us will be working with you to build this, you are going to employ our young people and you’re going to teach them’”.

While there are clear opportunities for international firms, the approach of being invested in the region you are working in has paid off for AVI-SPL. Under Phil Marlowe, managing director of the integrator’s Middle East operations, the division of the global integrator has quickly grown and employs more than 80 people in its Dubai facility. Marlowe and his team are responsible for the Middle East and North Africa as well as Turkey and Israel.

Marlowe attributes much of the growth to partnerships in the museum and entertainment industry. “We remain committed to our clients and provide ongoing support for projects and exhibits,” says Marlowe. “Our team is continuously present on-site to ensure the technology operates at its best and evolves alongside changing needs, with active involvement in the design process.”

This collaborative approach has been in demand from a region that is constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to attractions.

“The attractions and entertainment industry constantly push the limit of what exists, particularly in the rapidly growing MENA region,” says Marlowe. “There’s a competitive element that drives continuous innovation to achieve greater outcomes.”

NICOLA MESSANA PHOTOS/Shutterstock.com

“One trend in the Middle Eastern market has been the increasing focus on immersive and experiential attractions,” adds Naseef. “The Louvre Abu Dhabi [pictured above], for example, features interactive exhibits and multimedia installations that allow visitors to engage with the art and history on display.”

Naseef goes on to list several immersive experiences the company has been involved in for theme parks, museums and cultural attractions in the region including for the Qatar Olympic Sports Museum that saw increased focus during FIFA 2022. He also highlights a “large indoor cylindrical LED wall”, the company has been working on for Miral Destinations. “The specially designed LED wall with a built-in speaker system has never been installed in the region [before],” Naseef adds.

The constant pushing of boundaries and breaking of conventions challenges AV professionals with astonishing results. In the last two years Inavate EMEA has reported on projects from both AVI-SPL (Museum of the Future published in January 2023) and Kraftwerk LT (the KSA Pavilion at Dubai World Expo published in November 2021). In both projects the integrators detailed how they invented technology and worked with manufacturers to develop or adapt products to meet the ambitious goals of their clients. “Almost half of the technology in the KSA Pavilion wasn’t off the shelf,” notes Olivier.

For inventive, resourceful and imaginative AV professionals keen to stretch new technology to its limits, the museums and attractions sector across MENA is not only potentially lucrative, but also a place where creativity can be set free.

Top image credit: Fitria Ramli/Shutterstock.com


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