The expected move into Saudi Arabia by the world’s largest exhibitor outside the U.S. comes after the kingdom announced in December it would allow movie-going again after a 35-year ban for religious reasons – part of a drive led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform Saudi society. Vue’s preliminary deal follows a similar agreement inked recently between U.S. exhibitor AMC Entertainment Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The Saudi government in December said it expected more than 300 movie theater sites with more than 2,000 screens to open by 2030, building an industry that would contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 jobs over that period.
“This is a huge moment in the history of global cinema development for the exhibition industry, and we are honored to be partnering with such a well regarded and prestigious operator,” Tim Richards, founder and chief executive of Vue International, said in a statement.
“We are delighted to have been chosen to lead in the development of world-class cinemas and the big-screen experience in Saudi Arabia,” Richards added.
The Al Hokair Group owns and operates three shopping malls, dozens of videogame entertainment centers and 45 hotels and resorts, including some under the Holiday Inn, Novotel, and Radisson franchises.
“We are delighted to be working with Vue International and leading the development of Saudi Arabia’s world-leading cinema industry together,” Majed Al Hokair, CEO of Al Hokair Holding Group, said.
The statement said that Vue has been leading the way among exhibitors making inroads in the region. The company was the only exhibitor invited to attend Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, last October and has since been engaged in high-level meetings and conversations on building and operating state-of-the-art multiplexes in the region.
The joint venture entails construction of up to 30 multiplexes in existing and new Saudi sites over the next three years.
Full details of the deal are still being hammered out and will be disclosed in coming weeks. But it is expected that the first Saudi Vue multiplex could welcome moviegoers as early as this year.
Besides Vue and AMC, others exhibitors understood to be partnering up with local companies to build multiplexes in Saudi – the last untapped movie market in the Middle East – include Dubai-based VOX Cinemas and Middle East chain Cinemacity.