In proposals Vision 2030 is a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors. But what it really is, and the factor that will enable the success of these goals, is a rebranding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the world stage.
In 2019 a columnist for Arab News, while characterizing the Kingdom’s reputation abroad, said “one can see that it has had its highs and lows, with both positivity and negativity shadowing the Kingdom at different times. In the West, the perception of Saudi Arabia has been generally negative, except in relatively brief phases.” Changing this to become more favorable, to attract new talent and to increase annual visitors was a must for the success of Vision 2030, but how?
Would this have the same insensitive hallmarks of the notorious Kendal Jenner Pepsi advert that could not have been more misguided resulting in apologies? Would it be met by the same bemusement as Pizza Hut attempting to become just The Hut in order to appeal to the text generation causing it to be a non-starter of an idea? Or would it be lead to the same outcry and boycotting as Cardiff City changing their badge and colors despite the history and local feeling leading to a £100 million failure?
No matter where you look, no one has ever attempted to rebrand in such a way, at such a speed, while incurring such a cost as Saudi Arabia.
As well as the change in economic reliance on oil, Saudi Arabia must be looking at their neighbor the UAE who despite have a population five times smaller than KSA and being 25 times smaller in square kilometers have created a city that rivals New York, London and Paris in terms of business and events. They see little to no headlines around their ownership of sports teams that are not just about decreasing the level of competition and have become the top expat spot in the world with a favorable visa plan.
Saudi Arabia is following this example, utilizing sport and high-profile events as a method of loudly announcing that not only is Vision 2030 here, but it intends to shake up the status quo creating a new jewel in the Middle Eastern crown. The LIV Tour, ownership of Newcastle United and two heavyweight world title fights have not been met with the same reception as the UAE, with KSA being the story rather than the setting. Despite this, there has been no U-turn or backing out but rather continued forward momentum with knowledge that the news cycle is short and that success in sport will enable their goals.
When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first announced, in 2016, the plans for Vision 2030 I am sure it was met by most with cynicism and a certain amount of trepidation. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have pushed on with all projects and not only that have put themselves front and center on the world stage, not shying away from their links to high profile projects but rather embracing the spotlight, but is it working?
Zawya use figures from global media intelligence CARMA which demonstrate already the “shift in media perception of Saudi Arabia from 2020 until the first quarter of 2022, has revealed how Vision 2030 has now become the largest single contributor to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s global media coverage – and as a result, the nation is now seen in a more positive light than it was 15 months prior.”
It is eight years until the completion of the first phase of new super structure, The Line, which will make a larger splash than even the Burj Khalifa on the global stage once opened. Will this mimic the success of Dubai, becoming ‘the place’ for expat emigration, a super hub for tech, sales and marketing’s top tier talent while housing the world’s leading events.
We will know the success of this great rebrand when they open the doors to residents and businesses in 2030. Whether they flock to Neom or spurn it will dictate whether we are about to see another costly rebranding flop. One thing is for sure, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are fully backing Vision 2030.
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