MENA startups inject tech savvy into Saudi Arabia’s entertainment scene

Events and entertainment tourism are expected to play a key role in the Kingdom’s economic reform, with more than 5,000 events on the calendar for 2019. (Supplied)
Updated 08 November 2019

MENA startups inject tech savvy into Saudi Arabia’s entertainment scene

  • Event organizers are delivering an experience that lives up to the expectations of attendees
  • Up-and-coming event organizers will be able to provide professional and seamless digital experiences

CAIRO: While the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has always been a popular destination for business and entertainment events, a host of startups are taking the industry to the next level through the power of technology.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced a new strategic plan to revamp the local entertainment sector. There are more than 5,000 events on the calendar for 2019, with investments projected to exceed $64 billion over the next decade.

The plan is part of a broader push to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil by 2030. 

Events and entertainment tourism are expected to play a key role in this ambitious economic reform.

However, this sector boom is nothing new to the region. The UAE has established itself as a leading destination for business events and entertainment tourism, while more of MENA’s major economies are implementing economic plans that incorporate the thriving events industry in one way or another.

Startups in the region are capitalizing on the evolution of this space by developing a digital ecosystem which allows event organizers to deliver an experience living up to the expectations of their attendees.

Whether it is making ticket purchases easier, streamlining event check-in, or addressing a whole host of other challenges regional events organizers have historically faced, these startups are leveraging technology to raise the standards of event management.

A new generation of startups are leveraging technology and tourist entertainment. (Supplied)

“After all, it is not enough to have great performers when the rest of the experience that comes with attending events is below par,” says Farrukh Bandey, a user experience research manager at UXBERT Labs, the digital experience design company behind event planning and discovery app HalaYalla.

Launched in early 2014 by Bandey and Nadeem Bakhsh, the Saudi-based venture came to dominate the country’s entertainment scene after becoming the official ticketing app for the Jeddah Season series of events.

HalaYalla provides a full suite of event-management features together with live event analytics and reporting for organizers. It also worked with local authorities to let international event attendees apply for a tourist visa while buying their tickets through the platform.

While gaining the trust of the government was a huge milestone for the company, it was also a challenge. The team’s abilities were first put to the test when they handled the registration for Saudi Arabia’s first-ever Baloot Championship, a card game popular in Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Held in October 2018, the event saw more than 85,000 players register to compete.

Considered by many as one of the earliest disruptors in MENA’s event space, Eventus was founded in 2012 by Egyptian duo Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares. The company was backed by multimillion-dollar investment rounds from prominent local and international venture capitals.

The market Eventus excelled at addressing was providing event organizers with a customized app. The execution was a great hit for forums such as the Startup Grind’s Global Conference, an annual gathering for a community that supports 2 million entrepreneurs in more than 125 countries.


 This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


New Tunisian government sworn in after winning confidence vote

Updated 27 February 2020

New Tunisian government sworn in after winning confidence vote

  • Combating high prices, poverty and corruption will be key tasks
  • The new government will be tasked with relaunching discussions with the International Monetary Fund

TUNIS: Tunisia’s new government was sworn in Thursday after winning a parliamentary confidence vote that broke four months of post-election deadlock.
Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, thirty ministers and two secretaries of state were sworn-in during a ceremony at the presidential palace, over a month after Fakhfakh was designated premier by President Kais Saied.
A previous cabinet list put forward by Fakhfakh was rejected earlier in February by the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, which won the most seats in October’s legislative election, but fell far short of a majority in the 217-seat assembly.
But Fakhfakh’s revised lineup won the vote 129 to 77 — with one out of 207 lawmakers present abstaining — after a debate that started on Wednesday and lasted more than 14 hours.
The new cabinet swore to “work loyally for the good of Tunisia, to respect the constitution and its legislation (and) to scrupulously guard its interests.”
The confidence vote follows a power struggle between the president and Ennahdha, with the party earlier threatening to pull out of Fakhfakh’s proposed administration.
Ennahdha gave its support to the new cabinet after being handed six portfolios. The leftist Democratic Current and the People’s Movement were also given ministries, alongside some 17 ostensibly non-partisan appointments.
Opening the confidence session on Wednesday, Fakhfakh identified his priorities as fighting criminality and “terrorism,” as well as boosting the economy.
Combating high prices, poverty and corruption would be key tasks, alongside creating jobs, he said.
Fakhfakh last week said the political negotiations had taken place “in a completely democratic manner,” despite difficulties.
A cabinet put forward by another premier-designate, Habib Jemli, was rejected by parliament in January.
Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said the task ahead for the new government “will be very difficult and complex.”
“Fakhfakh’s cabinet is very heterogenous, composed of members who hold different visions and ideologies,” he contended.
Fakhfakh is Tunisia’s eighth prime minister since the 2011 revolution that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The new government will be tasked with relaunching discussions with the International Monetary Fund, which in 2016 approved a four-year, $3 billion loan for Tunisia in return for major reforms, some of which are disputed.
Due to delays, the country has only received about $1.6 billion so far, while the facility ends in April and the first repayments are due in November.